The other night I woke in a panic, with that unmistakable feeling I’d forgotten something. My eyes darted around the dark, taking stock of familiar surroundings, while my mind raced to retrieve what it was that sent me reeling.
Then I remembered. You. The one who made me a mom, my first baby. You are going to be in 5th grade. Not today, or even next month, but next year. If this year’s any indication, it’ll be here in the blink of an eye.
We’d just visited Open House, admiring the fruits of your 4th-grade year, which you eagerly showed your dad, brother, and me; proudly touring us around your classroom. For some reason, this year, the one on the heels of the 5th year you’ll spend as an elementary school-er, caught me off guard.
While you showed off your hand-drawn map of California and glazed, clay Grizzly Bear, I realized we’re standing smack-dab in the middle of your childhood. You are over halfway to “adult” and equidistant between training wheels and a driver’s license.
I thought there was more time, to do more together, that I always meant to do.
Like, read you more books. I didn’t know the clock was counting down minutes to the exact one (somewhere between Where the Red Fern Grows and A Wrinkle In Time) when you declared yourself too old to be read to. No hard feelings, but could I pleeeaase just let you read…alone?!
Tonight underscored what I already knew—you’re a big kid. I felt nostalgic for our time used up, and regretful for the time I’d wasted making you “hold on a second” until seconds piled into months and years that I’ve spent doing a bunch of who-knows-what, instead of what I meant to do with you.
I sat in the dark, wanting to climb the stairs to your room, crawl into your bed, and wrap my arms around your now-up-to-my-chin body (obviously I didn’t because you love sleep… and… um…boundaries!) Instead, I fed my Judgy-Inadequate-Mom-Demons moments of us— the good stuff—to keep them quiet; and prevent me from nosediving into the deep end of the mommy-guilt pool I’d been circling.
I did impossible math in my head, adding up milestones and memories until they equaled 10 years old; validation I had actually poured into you as much as I had left out.
I saw you, tiny and pink, wrapped in blue, polka-dot muslin, asleep in my arms while we rocked in the worn, sage-green chair that is now in your brother’s room, but was then brand new, our safe haven for discovering nursing and the pitch-black stillness of 3AM together; when we were just beginning.
I saw your first, wobbly, barefoot, pudgy-toed steps toward me, in our old house with warm bamboo floors and sunlight streaming in, making your new-tooth smile look like a washed-out home movie.
I saw your boppity-bouncy toddler gait evolve into steady, even strides running alongside me through busy streets to catch trains that took us to museums, swimming lessons, and afternoon tea in rainstorms, where we discussed dragons and pirates, and you wondered all your what-ifs to me out loud.
I saw the first time I broke us, by yelling louder than I meant to; but then how we were fixed with hugs, and apologies, and Candyland.
I saw euphoria overtake your small body as the singsongy arrival of the ice cream truck sent you darting out the door, knowing I’d follow. Sitting in the sun, on the curb, creamy drips falling from sticks, we soaked in the sweet laziness of summertime, and made our own schedule — before school, homework, and baseball practice.
I saw us planting our first garden. To your delight, we actually grew a watermelon, which you named Jr., and checked on daily until you pronounced “him” full grown and planned a party in his honor, including balloons and cake, because you were a kid who believed in everything (even garden fruit) with your whole self.
I saw us at the cafe we’ve frequented since you were a tiny lump, and I, an exhausted new mom in search of caffeine and signs of adult existence. Look at us now; me with a cappuccino and you across from me with tea (instead of strapped into a stroller with a sippy-cup). We discussed your science project and the political climate in our country—because you’re big now. We played hangman and tic-tac-toe, and ordered chocolate crepes with whipped cream—because you are little, too.
I saw us passing through time, until at last, we caught up and I found what I needed.
You’re not the extension of me you once were, needing me always, my hand to hold, my arms to hug, my lap to snuggle into for bedtime stories.
But you still need me, and I still see us, even if we’re changing.
Like when we watched “Toy Story 3” “for your brother” but he lost interest somewhere around the opening credits. You stayed, sinking into me on the couch, while we laughed at Buzz Lightyear’s “Spanish Mode” and exchanged knowing glances when Andy gave away his childhood toys.
You do actually let me read to you…sometimes…if you’re tired, and the plot is darker than you’d care to read alone; though you’d never admit it.
And while we’re both reading, or writing, it’s not long before I look up and realize you’ve quietly settled nearby; reassurance I’m still a moon in your orbit.
We’ve outgrown this side of childhood. But thanks to insomnia and mommy-guilt, I’ve gathered up memories for safe keeping, and made a time capsule of us. You may be over halfway to adult, but we’re just beginning to discover who you’re becoming as you grow up, as we grow up together, like we’ve been doing all this time.