I’ve realized all of a sudden that my small children are not small children at all. They are simply children.
Time has snuck up on me, yet again, and I find myself aghast at these long, gangly creatures in my home. When did they become these reading, giggling, running, impish, loving, conversational, tender people? When did the tiny people I made turn into their own people?
After I brought them home from school today, they asked, predictably, if they could watch a show. I told them no and to find something else to do.
A year ago, this would have caused a minor meltdown. Six months ago, same.
Today, they sighed and quietly retreated to the living room together, where they pulled out the Risk board game. Together, they set up the tiny armies in intricate layers and built shelters from wooden blocks. They created an elaborate storyline of battles and lines drawn, of betrayal and teamwork.
At first, I didn’t quite realize how remarkable this was. But suddenly, I looked over from my computer where I was feigning work and saw them: The sun was shining through the windows, and their lanky bodies were curled around the board, their voices hushed with excitement over the story they’d shaped. I saw their faces, first tense with concentration, then suddenly blooming with the smiles of growing kids.
Kids. Not babies. Not toddlers. Not small children. Kids.
My youngest is six and half now. His recently round belly is taut and his arms are muscular and strong. His skinny little legs end in growing, smelly feet with perpetually dirty toenails, no matter how recent the bath.
He woke me up today with a kiss, pressed his cheek to mine and then climbed onto the bed to snuggle in to my tired body. He stroked my arm and, though my eyes were closed, I felt him lift his head and peer at me for a long moment before pulling the full length of his body onto mine—a head-to-toe embrace. He whispered, “I love you, Mom”—which is not uncommon for him, but slays me every time—just before my husband came in to find him. He was supposed to be eating breakfast.
This tiny boy of mine is no longer a tiny boy. His last day of kindergarten is 3 days away.
My oldest is eight, and filled with all the weighty worries of someone twice his age. He is not tall, but is all long limbs and pointy knees and elbows, his back beginning to broaden already and his jaw beginning to square. He’s big, this kid of mine, and so many days, as his long hair falls across his face as he’s reading, I am struck by sheer amazement at his existence. This human body that I grew inside my own is running around and playing kickball and strumming guitars and becoming ensconced in novels day after day.
Two weeks ago, he was overtaken with a bout of anxiety that bubbled up out of nowhere, taking us all by surprise. It took him over and spread, like a wildfire that once lit, can’t be put out. I watched as his tough, confident body curled in on itself, his mind burying him in mounting worries. And I have since watched him work hard to use all the tools we’ve given him to battle against that wildfire and put it out. And he has, all on his own. We helped and supported, but he did this, and I’m left in amazement again. He’s better at this than I am. The worry that settled over his face so regularly for the past couple weeks has faded, and his smiles and laughs have returned. When he looks at me with that broad, toothy grin, I swear I can feel his heartbeat next to mine again.
At the end of his second grade year, he’s on the precipice of becoming an actual big kid. His body is changing, his ideas more complex, and he’s getting to that part of childhood that you truly remember. These are the years, I keep finding myself thinking. I hope we don’t screw them up.
It’s a funny combination of bittersweetness, watching your children grow up. It’s a platitude, I know. That can’t be helped.
But there’s also a warmth to it. It feels familiar, these big, leggy, awkward kids, leaving their stinky socks and homework and Legos all over the house. Their needs are different now, and that leaves room. They don’t need me to help them get dressed or wipe their mouths or hover nervously while they play. They run away from me now, and I let them, watching their big feet carry them away. Because I know they’ll come back. They do still need me, sometimes. To hug them in the warmth of the early morning, or to calm unrelenting fears, or to sit and read with them in the thick light of the evening.
There’s a freedom for both of us in this departure from “small.” We each get to have our own small worlds, and then we get to bring them together each day and share the parts that make us happy or angry or nervous or electrified. Because the kids are no longer so small, we all get to choose what we share. We get to enjoy the comfort of family and togetherness, without the weight of constant need. We get to be people together. Because my babies are no longer babies—they are their own beautiful, imperfect, developing, becoming selves. Not small at all.