I cast a glance across the living room at my kid, who is putting his latest Lego construction together. I watch as his fingers carefully pick apart the components and reassemble them exactly how he wants. I see his expanding shoulders and lengthening neck, then notice how his face is changing as well: his chin is more pointed, his cheeks are less round, and his nose is more pronounced than when I last checked.
The reality hits me all at once as I stare at my second youngest – my baby boy. Oh my god, I think, my heartbeat pounding in my ears. He’s no longer a child.
I rush to figure out when the shift happened, to identify the precise moment he left “little” behind. When you look at him now, you can see that every sign of it has vanished from his 8-year-old physique. When did that take place? I’m not sure where it came from. It felt as if I turned my back for a second and my baby vanished without a trace.
My baby has been replaced by a large, brilliant, hilarious, and amazing youngster. He knows how to read, ride a bike, prepare snacks, and tie his shoes. It’s both great and tragic, liberating and terrifying all at once. I’ve enjoyed watching my children grow up, but the realization that they are no longer children has hit me like a ton of bricks. When you realize you’ve completed that crucial part of development, it’s a bittersweet time.
The years spent as a small child are difficult, but they are also incomparably sweet. Having newborns, toddlers, and preschoolers was a dream come true for me. I enjoyed all of the newness in their environment, as well as watching them gain basic human abilities such as walking on two feet and speaking in full sentences. Their velvety skin and light, wispy hair were my favorites. I loved the way they smelled and how their bodies would melt into mine while they slept. The years spent as a small child are full of wonder, preciousness, and magic.
Everything, however, is a trade-off. As my children grow older, I shrink in their eyes. While I am relieved that I am no longer their entire world, I am more concerned about the influence the rest of the world will have on them. They’re on their way to self-sufficiency at breakneck pace. Of course, they’ve always been, but now it’s painfully clear. And letting them go is proving to be far more difficult than I had anticipated.
We’re all aware that it’ll happen. Children mature. It’s what they’re good at. It is for this reason that we have them. Nothing, however, can prepare you for it. Even if you see them evolving in front of your eyes every day, babies and toddlers seem to last an eternity. They grow bigger, but they remain small, and this pattern continues for years. Then, one day, those formative years as a child are gone for good.
Keep on if you’re still in the toddler stage. Some of it stinks, I know, and you won’t miss it once it’s gone. The squeaky giggles, baby-teeth grins, plump cheeks, and sausage toes, however, all vanish. It’ll happen, and it’ll happen quickly, most likely while you’re not paying attention.
So take it all in while you still have the chance. Smell their beautiful heads, hold them for as long as you can, and snuggle them while they’re still willing. You’ll turn around one day and not recognize your child, even if they’ve changed gradually.
Your young one will grow up quickly. It’ll be over before you realize it. It was as simple as that.