I don’t know exactly when it happened.
But at some point –somewhere amidst the sleepless nights and the potty training, the playdates and the tantrums, the first steps and the last diaper, the frantic searches for blankies and the never-ending just-one-more-story bedtimes – my little boys decided to go ahead and grow up.
They turned into bigger little boys.
In many ways, this is absolutely fantastic news. They can walk and talk and wipe their own butts (well, most of the time anyway). Our family is no longer held captive by a nap schedule or early bedtimes. They can help clear the table and push in their chairs after dinner (whether they do or not is another story). And we can go to movies and baseball games and restaurants as a family without packing a diaper bag that weighs more than the kids do.
In other ways, this growing up thing is absolutely devastating news. There are no more baby coos or first smiles or snuggling with a sleeping baby on my chest. The house is much louder now, discipline problems can’t just be solved with a time-out, and gone are the days of easy portability when I could zip through the grocery store without incessant demands for fruit snacks and cookies and juice bags.
Yes, for better and for worse, time passes and life moves on and things change. Kids grow up.
Pretty soon my bigger little boys will be full-fledged big kids and then teenagers (sweet baby Jesus, help me!) and then someday they will be men. Maybe even husbands or fathers.
How does this happen? How is it that these tiny little helpless babies who need us for absolutely everything one day turn into more-demanding-but-less-needy toddlers and then into adventurous little kids and eventually independent big kids?
Last week, Jackson, my oldest son, was one of the captains of his flag football team and watching him walk onto the field was both strange and familiar at the same time, kind like a case of déjà vu or remembering snippets of a fading dream. Actually watching him kind of felt like a flashlight was shined into my eyes and I couldn’t quite make sense of where I was or what I was seeing. How is he this old already? How did we get here? How is this the same boy who as a high-strung toddler sent me running home from Mommy and Me classes each week hiding my head in embarrassment because he couldn’t sit still in circle time for just.one.minute? When did he go from a little boy to a big-little boy? And when will he turn into an even bigger kid?
As I watched him walk onto the field, I felt a little disoriented and confused. I was caught off guard and for a moment I felt blinded by this too bright light.
A few weeks ago my younger son started his second year of preschool. Each afternoon when I drop him off, he walks off with hardly a glance over his shoulder, and it is hard to reconcile this confident little boy with the scared one who only a year ago would hug me tight with arms filled with fear and apprehension.
Some days if feels like I’m on this never-ending treadmill where time stands still and it’s hard to tell one day from the next. Days are consumed with breaking up fights over Pokemon cards and Lego’s and who got the bigger piece of candy.
But then other days feel like I’m riding a train that won’t stop, barreling through a dark tunnel and I just can get my bearings. There is so much darkness out there – work stress and credit card bills, battles over homework and chores, the incessant bickering, self-doubt and worries about whether I am good enough parent, not to mention all the Really Big Problems like illness and heartbreak and grief.
But then all of a sudden out of this darkness and the oh-my-gosh-why-won’t they-just-be-quiet moments and the what-if-and-what-should-I-do doubts and the Really Big Problems, there are these blinding flashes of light. Like handwritten notes and belly laughs and emails from good friends and unexpected acts of kindness. Like big-little-boys walking onto a football field and not-quite-so-little-boys who can spell their name and run off to preschool. Sometimes the light is so bright and overwhelming that it’s hard to make sense of it or know what to do with it.
Life is moving so fast, it seems, that some days I’m not even sure what it is that I’m seeing. Is this boy who is now so obsessed with football that we had to record the NFL draft the same boy who used to be a fanatic about animals and whose first word was Gee-Ga (i.e., gorilla)? Is this other little boy who can count to 100 and spell his name the same one who used to cling to me before bed and would fall asleep in his highchair at lunch?
Blinding, I tell you. Blinding.
Honestly, I’m kind of afraid that if I look too long, the too bright light might give rise to temporary insanity. I might crumble into a heap of tears right there on the sidelines of the football field. Or I might walk around wiping my tears and hugging strangers all day long. And as much as I appreciate the benefits of a good cry and as nice as hugs are, I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t be good for anyone. And, in a way, the darkness gets oddly familiar. Sometimes it is easier to focus on the grunt work and the nastiness and the unpleasant logistics of whatever it is that we are doing – whether it is raising children or teaching a class or preparing TPS reports all day – than it is to look at or look for the light.
But while looking away from the too bright light might be easier and more familiar, I know that if I keep my eyes closed for too long, the light will vanish and I could miss it all. If I don’t look – I mean, really look – I’m afraid that five, ten, or twenty years from now, it might just feel like a dream or a distorted mirage.
So I am looking more. I’m looking at the light and for the light. Because the truth is, life does move fast, even if it feels like time is standing still some days; kids grow up, whether we wish they did so more quickly or slowly than they actually do; and circumstances change, eventually. There is a lot of darkness out there, but there is light too. And it’s brilliantly blinding.
So grab some sunglasses and look closely.