The following are a list of goals my son set for himself not long ago:
1) Get Star Wars movies
2) See Germany
3) Make a portal to the Pokemon world
How does one argue with such an agenda? One’s aspirations should always range from the effortless to the ambitious — and, frankly, who wouldn’t want to visit both Europe (where his beloved ex-babysitter lives) and the world of Japanese anime? I have less than no understanding of the whole Pokemon thing, but, hey, I’d be on the first flight out. I’d say it’s a very sensible list, in that light.
Particularly given that Ted is all of 8 years old. And, yet, what might seem very young to some has suddenly begun to seem excruciatingly old to me. Eight years have passed since my firstborn emerged from my body; in a mere five, my son will stand before our synagogue and be declared a man. This rather commonplace fact burst into my consciousness recently, and I all but broke down.
I was, in a word, stunned. Stopped in my tracks. Gobsmacked.
I’ve been sort of coasting along, assuming I have, if not all the time in the world, then a fairly big chunk of it, before he –— of biological necessity — snaps the umbilical cord irrevocably. Or, put another way: stops talking to me. Because of course that is my fear.
Seen from this end, the beginning of his life has passed by with unseemly speed. I can remember many wonderful things he said and did, but I can’t remember the weight of his newborn body in my arms. I can still see the baby in him when he’s asleep, but the word-stumbling toddler is gone for good. In some pictures, he looks like he’s going to college tomorrow.
To realize, then, that 13 is likely to arrive at the same breakneck pace as third grade is more than a little appalling. Sure, there are days when the hours are too long, but mostly, they’re far, far too short. He is so funny, so smart, so sweet and my arms want so much to always be around him. There really is never enough time. My unspoken goal –— to keep him small just a little bit longer — is more unlikely than anything on his list.
How did I come to be coasting? How did I come to take my little boy — or, rather, his very littleness — for granted? It’s true that 8-year-olds have never really interested me. As a veteran of many years of babysitting and nannying, I’ve always said (hopefully not in Ted’s presence) that the best ages are 2 through 5. “After that,” I’ve been wont to add, “it’s off to boarding school until they’re teenagers and can hold a decent conversation!”
Now I know that’s idiotic. Some of my most valuable chatting is done with my boy, a person so new that he still shares very little of my cultural context, and often sees things in a light I would never consider. True, his perspective sometimes flies in the face of physics, but that doesn’t make it boring.
But somewhere an idea struck root that there is a vast stretch of unremarkable time that comes over children after kindergarten; that, somehow, 6-year-olds and 10-year-olds are really, by and large, the same. Whatever I miss today, I’ll get next year.
Oh my. Counting the ways in which that’s just wrong makes me dizzy. I can barely keep track of the changes from week to week. Year to year? There’s no tracking it, is there.
I’m sorry to say that this breaks my heart. Of course I want him to grow and be strong and come into his own. I am, in a very real way, looking forward to meeting the 13-year-old, the 17-year-old and the 22-year-old. He’s going to be fantastic. And I don’t honestly think he’s going to cut me off entirely. At least not for long.
But I so love this little boy who is here now, as I’ve so loved the myriad of little boys nestled inside him, like Russian dolls. I want them all, always.
There is nothing, though, nothing I can say or do about it. There is no deeper meaning, no way to make it less bittersweet. It’s just life.
All I can do is keep those clichéd promises that we make to ourselves — to try to be more present, now. To focus on what matters, and less on the fact that he eats with his mouth open (…). To enjoy, en-joy as much of our life together as I can. He deserves to know how much joy he gives me — and I need to try to return it, everyday. Even those days when I’ve sent him to his room, because he really, but really, deserved it.
And don’t even get me started on his little sister.
Emily L. Hauser is a freelance writer and mother of two.