Sunday, January 22, 2012

Stay Little

"If they could just stay little 'til their Carter's wear out."  One of the greatest advertising slogans ever, in my opinion.

What parent hasn't felt a version of this sentiment?  I know that every time one of my kids moves up a store department (from toddler to little girl, from little boy to big boy), I get a serious pang of regret.  Can my baby possibly no longer be a toddler?  Yes, she will be going into kindergarten.  Is it even possible that my firstborn can't wear Carter's anymore?  Yes, he's a second grader now, not that snuggly little ball of goo he once was.

I think that most parents regret the loss of the little ones their kids once were.  Many seem deeply saddened by the fact that their kids are growing up.  The thing is, I am not one of those people.

Oh sure.  I'd give anything for one more day with my son as a toddler.  He was spectacular--that portly, sunglass-wearing little man about Lincoln Park, my sidekick.  And my daughter?  So much of the first year of her life is such a blur that I'd give my left arm to do parts of it over so I could pay better attention.  So often it seems that my second-born arrived fully formed--walking, talking in full sentences, and ordering us around--that I'd love a reminder of her tinier, cuddly self.

Perhaps I'm not distant enough from my children's infancy and toddlerhood, but I am thrilled to have it behind me.  Yes, new baby smell is the best, except when the baby is spitting up and worse all over you.  And nothing is more peaceful than a sleeping baby.  Except they don't sleep all that much, and neither did I.  The forward-tilting toddler full-speed-ahead walk is one of my favorite things.  Except that they are often doing it toward something dangerous or breakable.

Little kids are cute and wonderful and hugely rewarding, but they also are really hard work.  These days, I am not housebound waiting for a baby to nap.  I can go on a trip without a level of preparation that would rival that for D-Day. We all can put on our own clothes, bathe ourselves, and (usually) use the toilet.  I don't need to push anyone on the swings.  I can, but I don't have to.  And--watershed moment today--even the little one can sled down a big hill and march herself back up, pulling her sled behind.  There are harder times ahead with less tangible things my children will need from me, but the phase of high-level basic maintenance is over.

While I'm ecstatic that I usually sleep through the night now, the best part of my children's growing up is that they are so much more interesting.  They are little people now, and they are so fascinating to talk to.  The five-year-old reads to me now, and you haven't understood the civil rights movement until you've heard her explain the bus boycott.  My second grader recommends books to me, and he knows stuff that I don't know.  He's not even eight yet, and I already fail to question his knowledge when he asserts something in a field of his interest (it probably took me a decade to acknowledge that his father is always right about facts, trivial or otherwise).  There are days when I feel like the dumbest person in the house, and I think that's pretty great.

I always loved babies and little kids.  Then I had my own.  I loved them and I loved being with them, but it was tiring and frustrating and isolating.  Now, I love who they are becoming.

I think I am better suited to this part--making them better humans--than I was at the basic maintenance part.  I feel I have more to give.  I just hope I do a good job, because there is a lot of potential there.

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