Lately, my three-year-old son has become obsessed with growing up. It’s not the simple obsession of “My birthday’s coming up” or “I’m getting older.” No, he wants to be a grown-up “like mommy and daddy.”I’m certainly not ready for that yet. I’m still mourning the infant and the baby as he’s now an active, rowdy, funny kid. There’s not much baby left in him yet.
Yet the delicate balance between dependence and independence is such a wondrous phenomena, especially in children. They year to do things themselves (we constantly hear in our home: “No, I do it myself!”) but at the same time, they don’t want mom or dad to be too far away (we still get tears and sobs, with little arms clung to my legs and his sad voice begging “Mommy, don’t go. I want to stay home with you.”) At each stage, my heart melts and breaks, becoming an indefinite form of mush. At night, when he sleeps, I can only pray, God, please keep him safe always.
Last night, we were reading I Love You Forever, a children’s book about a mother’s love as her child grows up, through each stage, until the mother herself is old, frail, sick, and the roles reverse. It’s a beautiful book (though some find it creepy as the mother creeps into her child’s home to hold him, rock him, and sing to him – I take it figuratively), though I can hardly ever finish the book without a lump tugging and threatening to bring on the waterworks. So I don’t read it to him too often. Last night, when we got to the part of the teenager now grown into a man and leaving home, we have the following conversation:
Him: Mommy, why is the boy leaving his house?
Me: Because he’s a grown-up now, and grown-ups don’t live with their mommies and daddies.
Me: Because they have their own houses and families.
Him: (pause, then eyebrows bunch up, head tilts back) I don’t want to be a grown-up anymore.
We followed this conversation in the morning, on our way to school.
Him: Mommy, I want to be a grown-up.
Me: But then you won’t live with mommy and daddy anymore.
Him: But I want to live with you! (his eyes were starting to shine)
Me: Me, too, baby. I want you to live with us for a very long time. That’s why I’m not ready for you to be a grown-up yet.
I know he’ll be a grown-up soon enough. Before I know it (or like Kenny Chesney’s song says, as I blink), he’ll be that teenager going off to college, getting married, having kids. And I’m so not ready for that yet. I don’t know if I’ll ever be, but he’s already growing up way too fast and I’m afraid I’m blinking too much. He’s going to be four this summer; he’s starting Pre-K in Aug. Next year, he’ll be in Kindergarten. Yet, I feel as if I just brought him home from the hospital yesterday, cuddled him in my arms, nursed him, sat mesmerized by his gummy smile.
It’s bittersweet indeed.