Crossing the Bridge from Early Childhood
Since my 5-year-old just started kindergarten, I have been smushing his squishy cheeks with my kisses even more than usual, and hoping the powers of memory preserve that feeling forever. Those cheeks are the last remnants of babyhood in my children.
Maybe it’s because each summer my birthday establishes me more firmly into the territory of “middle-aged woman.” Maybe it’s because my youngest “baby” is now in Kindergarten. Maybe it’s because my oldest “baby” just started 4th grade, which is exactly when I felt like a little adult instead of a little kid. Maybe it’s because my healthy and vibrant parents are somehow in their 70s. Whatever the reasons, I am feeling near panic about the acceleration of Time.
I stand by my position of rolling my eyes at the “days are long, years are short” sentiment, probably because I have just barely stepped over the finish line of those years parenting ages 0-4. I will say it loud and clear – if only to remind my future self who will no doubt be nostalgic – parenting newborns, infants, toddlers and preschoolers is utterly depleting and all-consuming in a way I will NOT miss, magical moments and all.
No matter how precious those deep belly baby giggles are, I don’t need to keep having babies to hear it – that’s what video is for. I watch super adorable 18-month olds toddle in zig zags with their outstretched hands looking to grab the un-grabbable, eyes wide with innocence and plotting, and I think, “I’m so glad that’s over.”
On my recent vacation – a week in Maui with my husband and without our children – I realized I have spent the last five years looking for any way to have a break from parenting. As I watched families with young children having tantrums by the resort pool, I know why and I don’t feel badly about it.
But then I looked at other families, parents traveling with three teenage children, and I felt a big shift. As my own family enters the finite window of having all three children in elementary school, I suddenly want to grab each of my children and keep them close to my side until they flee from their weird mom.
Our oldest is now halfway to college. Preschool is permanently in our rearview mirror. We celebrated our 11th anniversary during our vacation. In the next 11 years, we will have a daughter legally old enough to drink, two who can vote, and all three kids of legal driving age.
Our children have spent the last 10 years of our married, family life needing us in a bottomless, infinite way. If we are doing parenting how we want to, they will spend the next 10 years needing us less and less. As developmentally great as that is, it’s gonna hurt.
As our family edges past the early childhood years, Time is changing. In those years, time stretched ahead of us in long nights of multiple awakenings, and naptimes never long enough for adult afternoon respite. Child-directed pretend play for ten minutes felt like hours.
Suddenly though, I looked at my 9-year-old daughter drying off at the pool this summer, and I saw such a serious, contemplative look on her beautiful face that I flashed forward to her adolescence. She looks more like a teenager than a child in some of these lightning-quick moments.
Even in my light, sweet, easygoing 7-year-old with her blond ringlets and shy smile giving her the ultimate look of childhood innocence, I notice her self-sufficiency escalating quickly as she wants to keep up with her big sister.
So on our long-awaited child-free Hawaiian vacation we realized something big: we may not do this again in a long, long time because we want to do it with our kids now.
I may be totally wrong as I defer to more experienced parents (feel free to point it out). But since the whole job of teenagers is to spend more time with friends than parents, I feel like we are now on the countdown of “quality family time” for all 5 of us as the young one can now hang WITH rather than hang ON, and the oldest has a few years before we lose her to a much more exciting social life.
This is it people. The time is now. Time to switch gears from the 24/7 job of building up all the fundamental parts of their beings (safety, trust, healthy attachments) to us BEING their fundamentals – their touchstones — in these years when they may still listen to us. When they still say “Mommy” and “Daddy” and rush to give us hugs at the end of the day. When my son not only tolerates my squishy-cheek kisses, but leans into them.
The time is now to keep them close. Because in another 5-year-blink, the only time they will want to be with us is at a resort in Maui.