My baby, the youngest of six, is starting to look less like a baby and more like a little boy. He’s talking, climbing, getting annoyed at his siblings. He’s no longer nursing. It’s bittersweet. Mourning the loss of babyhood is natural.
“Where does the time go?”
“They grow up so fast!”
“I can’t believe my baby is 3/5/10/graduating from middle school/going to college/getting married/having a baby/going through a midlife crisis/a member of AARP”.
I think even those mothers who don’t necessarily want to do the whole newborn thing all over again would jump at the chance to time travel and snuggle their children as tiny babies just for one day, to revisit them as precocious toddlers. If you’re like me, you second guess the decisions you made, wondering what would be different if you had a do-over, if you knew then what you know now.
It is true that you can never get those days back. But it is also true that you have THIS day. And while you cannot get that newborn smell back, you get other gifts to take its place. Every stage has its own beauty. Three-year olds say the most hilarious things. Five-year-old have such enthusiasm for life and for learning. And my big kids – that “first round” of babies that made me a mother – they are awesome. If you are saddened by the passing baby stage or toddler years, I am here to tell you that good things lie ahead.
My particular big kids are 10, 12, and 13. And yes sometimes they smell and they roll their eyes and there is p-u-b-e-r-t-y and we need to talk about internet safety and smoking and drugs and sex. But they are in a sort of sweet spot right now, not quite full-on teenagers, but not little kids anymore, and this is a great place to be.
We share more interests. I might never fully understand the Pokemon love or Clash of Clans obsession, but there are things we enjoy together. They read Harry Potter and watch Star Wars. We can go on walks that aren’t paced for a daydreaming toddler, and sometimes they join me in my workouts. And when the stars align and I control the television, I will choose silence 90% of the time, but the other 10% they will join me in watching Once Upon a Time or Fuller House. (And yes, this is what I watch, because while I do enjoy the Game of Thrones or Sookie Stackhouse books, I am actually quite squeamish and prudish about what I watch in movies or on tv).
Conversations are more like talking to a friend. With my little kids there is a lot of don’t climb on that and do you want more milk? and please play nicely with your sister. With my big kids I can talk about books, or movies, or how manipulative the advertising industry is, or Catholic social teaching, or even politics.
They get better at what they do. Watching my four year old play soccer is like watching a bunch of puppies chase after a ball. And yes, it’s cute and I can enjoy that stage too. But when I watch my 10-year-old play, I am watching an actual game, with strategy and skill and heartbreak and celebration. My daughter has gone from a little girl in a tutu uncertainly tapping her foot to this artist that takes my breath away when she dances. When my oldest practices his violin as I do the dishes, I feel like I am getting my own personal concert.
They bake. I don’t buy a lot of sweets because they are too much temptation. We ALL have a sweet tooth (sweet teeth?), and after dinner everyone is wondering what they can find to satisfy it. So I just tell them, “If you want dessert, you’ll have to make it.” And they DO. They will pull up a recipe on Pinterest, check for the ingredients, and proceed. They will even clean up (most of the time). And we all enjoy the fruits of their labor. Shout out to the Cupcake Wars Netflix binge that started it all. If baking seems too specific, let’s just say that they are trustworthy, proactive, and skilled enough to independently work for what they want when they want it.
They have cool friends. And when these friends come over I don’t have to give talks on sharing or make sure no one is climbing the bunk beds or tell them to use their inside voices. Sometimes I don’t even know they’re here until they all get hungry. Then I just order an extra pizza.
They are independent. They can make breakfast and lunch and sometimes even dinner. They are strong swimmers. They can be trusted to be home alone and even to babysit the preschoolers for short periods. I can’t wait until they are old enough to keep the baby for a few hours because I feel like a whole new world of date nights will open up for me and my husband.
Our oldest is starting high school in the fall. In four years he will go to college and maybe leave home to do it. I am sure that there are wonderful things about having a child in college, about having an adult child, about a child who makes you a grandparent. I will do my best to focus on the beauty of each of those stages, cherishing the years that have passed but trying not to be saddened by the fact that they are behind us. But today I think we will make cupcakes.