I mourned the baby years. I treasured every first: first tooth, first step, first word. I still have the locks from my sons’ first haircuts on my dresser in old jewelry boxes, labeled, with dates. I treasured them because I saw the shadow of an end in every beginning.
In This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald points out the difference between a sentimental person and a romantic: “the sentimental person thinks things will last — the romantic person has a desperate confidence they won’t.” I fall firmly into the romantic camp. So I treasured every beginning, all those firsts, because all those firsts were also somehow lasts. I thought, when the baby years had ended, the firsts had gone with them, and I mourned that too.
But I was wrong. There are big kid firsts too. In fact, there’s no end to the “firsts” in our kids’ lives.
Good news, folks: The same way your baby grew and changed, your kid will grow and change. They will grow different, they will grow strange to you, these gangly creatures who walk and talk and blurt sudden opinions. But just as they had firsts when they were small and gap-toothed and cooing, they will have big kid firsts. Just this week, I took my oldest to his first real athletic practice. We’ve never been “sports people,” and this was the first real team event, his first real coach, his first real chance to prove himself as I stood on the literal sidelines. I was as proud of his awkward pencil dives as his wobbly first steps. Just as he tottered away from me then, he stepped farther into the world
There will be other athletic firsts. There will be a first match won, a first match lost. The first time they work so hard and finally get that one thing right. We don’t talk about these firsts. We don’t mention them; we don’t write them down in baby books or note their dates on calendars. Perhaps we should. We feel them no less keenly. We feel in them those same beginnings, and we feel those same shadows of an end, that same sense of moving on, moving forward, leaving-behind. Growth brings change, and change brings both sunlight and shade.
There’s no end to the “firsts” in our kids’ lives.
Many of those big kid firsts won’t be firsts our children celebrate alone. They will have a first favorite song, a first favorite band. It’ll probably be a band we like, because that’s what they hear playing in the background of their lives, and we’ll be thrilled. My middle son says his favorite band is Phish, but only because David Bowie isn’t a band, but a musician. He will gladly and gleefully inform you his favorite song is Bowie’s “Queen Bitch,” followed closely by “O! You Pretty Things!” I hold these firsts in my heart. Bowie will not always be his favorite, but he is right now. I know the end is coming but oh, this time is precious.
You will close your eyes and hear them, for the first time, singing a pop song from the other room. My children love to sing. I treasure those firsts: the first time I heard my youngest lisp through “Yellow Submarine.” The first time my middle son warbled “Life on Mars.” I giggle when I think of the first time I heard my two youngest singing Poe’s “Angry Johnny.”
There will be big kid firsts we bring to them, or firsts we share with them. You will bring them movies: Raiders of the Lost Ark. Star Wars. Lord of the Rings. Harry Potter. You will open a book for the first time, and you will read: “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” You will hand them an old video game controller and teach them to play Mario Bros. or Tetris. And those firsts, you will share together.
Just as your remember those first shots and the first trip to the ER, you’ll have not-so-great big kid firsts. There’ll be that first not-so-great report card, followed by the first parent-teacher conference. There’ll be that first time the internet gets misused. The first time they ask you awkward questions you can’t really answer about death or god or sex or relationships or the meaning of life or where we go when we die.
Just as they had firsts when they were small and gap-toothed and cooing, they will have big kid firsts.
But most of those big kid firsts will be the type we celebrate. Or should celebrate. They’re the type that are written on your heart, the ones you think of when you think of your children: the pride on their faces when they catch their first fish, the joy when they finish their first race, the happiness over their first pet. These are the firsts that make you say, remember when? And another voice will chime in: yes, I remember that. I remember when I …
No one remembers their first tooth. You remember it. But you remember it as something that happened, as an event. Big kid firsts are emotional moments, snapshots of lives lived, memories that last. They are the things that make us say: Oh yeah, that time.
They will end, of course. They are beautiful while they last, these moments shining as a brand-new tooth, precious as those first lisped words. There are more firsts. And we have to hold them as hard as we hold the ones from babyhood.