“Do you want socks on?” I asked my nineteen-month-old son, raising an eyebrow. His feet were cold, but that was a pretty sophisticated question. He wouldn’t be able to understand it. Right?
He bobbed his head up and down, blond hair flopping. An unmistakable yes.
I moved my own mouth up and down wordlessly a few times. I finally said, “Okay,” and went to get him socks. My baby wasn’t going to be a baby for much longer.
I’ve never been a mom who clings to the baby stage. My mothering style is much more invested in helping my kids develop than physically taking care of them. The complete dependence of newborns overwhelmed me at times. The end of nursing was a little sad, but ultimately a relief. Overall, I find the toddler stage far better than the newborn one.
But this development came as a shock to me. Our younger son is our little one. He was born nearly a month early, just over 5 pounds. He was healthy, but felt so fragile when I first held him. Only recently did he crack the 1% in weight on the growth chart. Even his nickname of Little Bird reflects his small status.
I could see a transformation happening before my eyes. One moment, it seemed like our words were foreign to him. The next, he could understand everything. Now when you ask him a question, his blue eyes light up. His head becomes a yes/no indicator, bouncing this way and that.
In addition to his communication, his preferences have become more complex and sophisticated. Instead of just loving his giant Cookie Monster puppet, he now has favorite cereals, favorite books, favorite balls, favorite ways to sit. High chairs with trays are right out, his new booster seat is marginally acceptable, and sitting on mom’s lap is the best. Or maybe he’s known all this for ages and only now has been able to tell us.
Seeing Him for Who He Is
These changes are forcing me to see him more and more as himself, a little person with a definite perspective.
When he was first born, we knew nothing about him. He slept more than my older son, but that was because he was almost a month early. Based on his constant in-uterine kicking routine, we guessed he would be active, but who knows?
As he grew, we came to love his big laughs, his craving for the outdoors, and his wild side. His need to do things “by myself” far before he could say those words inspired both smiles and sighs of exasperation.
But despite all that, it’s still easy for me to project my own vision of who he is onto him. Walking with him in my arms, I pretend I’m speaking for him. In a squeaky voice, I chirp “Good night daddy!” and “Good night brother!”
Soon, I won’t be able to do that. Soon, he’ll be able to speak for himself. As he becomes his own person, his own voice will prove me wrong, time and time again.
The Waltz of Parenting
Yet for now, he still clings to me, a baby monkey grasping his mama’s soft fur. Raising his arms up over and over, he demands I pick him up and squeals when I don’t respond fast enough. When someone else is holding him, he stretches his entire body out to me, catapulting himself into my arms.
Isn’t this constant push and pull, this dance towards and away from our children, what parenthood is all about? One moment, they’re close, so close that you can smell their sweet hair. The next, they’re far, so far that it seems like they’ll never return. And yet they do, over and over again.
We are still so far away from sending him off to college or even kindergarten. And yet, the dance has already begun. But then, it did the day he was born. It’s just more clear to me each day.
My fellow parents engaged in this dance, please help each other hold onto and let go of our children as we need to. Help each other keep up with the relentless beat of growing up. And support each other when the growth of our children takes our breath away, whether that’s in their first steps across our living room floors or across the graduation stage.
Growing up is hard, especially for the parents. Be sure to read about my reflections on Little Bird outgrowing some of my favorite pajamas of his or follow our Facebook page for more essays!