It’s almost sudden the way our kids grow up. It’s similar to how sometimes summer just blows out of the spring air without warning and one day you find yourself outside sweating just wishing that it was spring again. The only difference is that spring will soon come back during the regular cycle of life while my kids will just keep growing up, up and away!
I don’t know when the exact moment came when I realized that my baby was growing up. Probably the first time was when I got rid of the diapers for good or the first time they wanted to walk without holding my hand. The sobering thought of no longer being needed or wanted crept into my stomach and mixed with pride to form something that no word has been created to describe. Luckily that same night my baby crawled into my bed wanting to be held in the kind of way only a mother can. Days later they went down the slide all by themselves without waiting to be caught at the bottom and a few blinks later they were off to their first day of school.
I can remember standing outside the school trying to find an open window to peer into just to make sure they were okay. In some distorted part of myself I wanted them to be crying; longing to spend lazy mornings with me and at the same time I wanted them to be okay. There is a fine line between allowing a child to grow up and wanting them to. The only problem is that no matter how I feel – they will grow up anyways. Not in spite of me; but despite me.
Suddenly they are learning how to read and write, figuring out complicated math facts and spending more time with their friends than with anyone else. They come home from school happy, disappear to their rooms and the smiles that I used to be able to invoke have turned into rolling eyes and shrugs. There are days when I reach out to hug them and they shy away at the sheer thought of me touching them. Just as the tears well up in my eyes they shift into another gear and say something so sweet, touching or insightful that I realize all over again why I love them so much. As we share a laugh or a brief discussion about the clothes they want that I don’t think they are old enough to wear I catch a far away glimmer of the little girl with a pacifier in her mouth. There in my daughter’s eyes; she hides. It takes me back to the first time I saw her so tiny and small and the first time I held her at my breast to feed her. Her eyes haven’t changed a bit…
As my hand reaches to pull a stray hair from her face she catches my wrist and in the whining voice only a pre-teen can muster stops me again. This time she smiles and I can remember the day when she had no teeth and then again when she lost her front teeth and stuttered for months on end. One night we stood in the bathroom together as she cried worried that her teeth would never come in. Last night we stood in that some bathroom as she cried over a boy that broke her heart. My baby is growing up!
Luckily for me I still have a baby in the house. I watch her run and play, stomp and jump and look over at the couch to where the older girls sit. Just yesterday they too were filled with the wild abandon and innocence of a toddler, knowing nothing about the world except for the immediate and graceful way that it always rose to meet their needs. Now they sit, noses buried in a book or a Nintendo game that I have no way of understanding barking orders and stomping every time they are asked to do a chore. I imagine that my older children see me as an ogre, no longer the coolest mom on the block. I notice that I am often angry when I speak to them or about them, disappointed in their behavior and trying hard to teach them the right way to be. Perhaps their callousness is rooted in the fact that they too would give everything to go back to the way things were. Already they have responsibility, homework, expectations and peer pressure to burden their days and life is a series of events that make up a day. As they wake up each morning with a full plate I miss the little bouncy girls and dragging diapers that used to stir them from slumber. I miss fixing the bottle and the pancakes lying on the floor playing blocks until they grew tired. I miss the way they used to rush into my arms as though a hug from me was a coveted prize. Instead, I drop them off at school and watch them slam the van door rushing off to be with friends barely looking back to see if I am still there. My babies are growing up.
As I drive off I see in the rear view mirror another baby singing some silly song I recorded on DVD. Her eyes look just like the others, innocent and happy and I wish there was a way to hold her every moment. When we get home she will rush into my arms and sit in my chair with me as I try to work. For a few minutes I will be irritated – distracted by the amount of work I am not getting done and then I will see the picture in my living room of the other girls in my life. In the picture they too were little with a life time of dreams ahead of them. On the other wall are the school photos taken just this year of the same girls, with the same eyes – just much older. It makes me wonder how it happened so fast. While I was living through it each day seemed like an eternity and now all these years have passed and I realize with certainty that my babies are growing up!
From where I sit in a sunbeam the fall leaves are beginning to fall off a few of the trees outside my window. The evolution of life is in constant motion. It’s still hot and I realize that soon in will be cold and Christmas. This year one less child in my home will believe in Santa. I imagine that on Christmas Eve I will be up late, wondering again how winter blew in so fast and dropping tears on the plate of cookies that I left out for Santa. I will look ahead to spring and will have yet another set of pictures to hang on my wall. The pictures will prove what my mind already knows and my heart tries to deny every day…my babies are (most definitely and quickly) growing up.