When I first laid eyes on my seven-year-old, I never could have imagined all the ways he would transform in his first handful of years. His transition from tiny, helpless newborn to chunky, happy baby felt miraculous to me. Every single phase since — from curious toddler to stubborn preschooler to adventurous elementary student — has felt just as incredible. I have three kids now, and it never gets old. Watching my children become is a privilege, and I marvel at them.
But something unexpected happened recently. My son turned seven and BAM! I’m raising a whole different person.
He looks different. Every single hint of baby has disappeared from his face. His beautiful freckles grace a nose that has started to transition from a baby button into something stronger, more sculpted. His formerly chubby, mushy cheeks feel firm when I kiss them now. He’s less than a foot shorter than I am. His neck is long. When I hug him, his body feels firm and strong. Somehow between six and seven, he became someone new.
As it turns out, there are actual hormonal changes that begin during these years that probably explain all the physical changes. Adrenarche is a precursor to puberty that starts right around this age. To be honest, nobody told me adrenarche existed, but even if I had known, I don’t think I would really have been prepared.
Of course, I expected my boy to get bigger, look different and even act differently along the way. I just wasn’t quite ready for this quantum leap from little kid to big kid. It has just been so sudden and so…big.
He’s still the messy, brilliant, silly boy we have always known. But he’s more all of a sudden. More mature. More capable. Way more helpful.
Also more cranky, more stubborn and more argumentative.
Heaven help me.
He is starting to push back in ways he never did before. Sometimes, he’s just contrary and stubborn and a little bit bratty.
But sometimes, he’s arguing his true convictions. If he thinks I’m wrong or being unfair, he will argue his position until I acknowledge it, and sometimes, he will keep pressing until he feels satisfied with my answer. It drives me bananas, but it also impresses me. He’s developing a sense of justice and he won’t stand for being silenced. That’s really amazing to watch! Helping him harness that energy and learn how to use it productively isn’t always smooth sailing, but we are figuring it out as we go, I think.
Some parts of this phase remind me of toddlerhood all over again. He gets frustrated at much smaller things than he has in the last couple years, like accidentally choosing the wrong shade of blue for his picture, or misspelling a word he thinks he should know. He sometimes cries at things that would never have bothered him before. He’s really aware of how others perceive him. If I laugh when he didn’t know he was being funny, he immediately wonders if I am laughing with him or at him. I have to reassure him way more than I ever had to when he was just a carefree preschool clown.
Any hint of patronizing makes him feel angry or sad. Gone are the days of being able to convince him everything he does is amazing. He wants honest feedback now. As hard as we try, we just can’t persuade him that we are impressed by every move he makes anymore. He can see when he needs practice.
But he’s not quite mature enough to take critiques in stride. We still have to wrap our advice in many layers of praise for him to be able to receive them. As big as he feels, in many ways he’s still just little.
My seven-year-old’s moods are unpredictable and his opinions are strong, so this phase has challenged all of us in ways we didn’t anticipate. Navigating these changes while in voluntary isolation for a global pandemic has been an extra level of WTF sometimes.
But along with the tricky bits, some parts of this age are so incredible.
My seven-year-old is developing interests that are all his own. He still loves dinosaurs, but he’s moved beyond t-rex and triceratops, voraciously taking in as much info as he can about lesser known species, prehistoric periods, and even mass extinction. He’s always loved elephants, but now he wants to know about conservation efforts, animal rights and what he can do to help. As his brain grows, his mind expands to places I didn’t even know he wanted to go. I’m learning as much as he is.
He is done pretending to like things just because other kids do. This kid doesn’t want to play sports or video games, and he’s comfortable with that. He is learning who he is.
Lucky for me, he is still my baby once in a while. If he gets sad or hurt or very tired, I can still convince him to climb up in my bed and lay on my pillow with me and “talk.” I let him pretend I’m the one who needs the snuggles, so he won’t have to admit he just wants his mommy. If I’m especially lucky, his eyes will start to close, and we won’t have to say much at all. He will let me rub his (sometimes slightly stinky) head and hold him close while he falls asleep.
In those moments, I can almost see the baby he used to be. For a minute, I can remember nursing him when he was just tiny, waiting for his long, beautiful eyelashes to flutter over his green eyes and come to rest on his chunky little cheeks. I recall how he looked when he would finally fall asleep, the tiniest drop of milk running out the corner of his mouth. He would quickly sigh, and then go totally floppy, falling into the deepest sleep, safe in my arms.
That baby isn’t gone. He’s still here in my boy. And all those hours I spent loving that tiny little baby mattered. My big boy still feels so safe and secure in my love that he knows he can rage and cry and question me and nothing will change how I feel. Everything I did for that tiny baby was to create the bonds that are sustaining us now. I’ll be a safe place for him for as long as he needs me.
This age is tough. But it’s also so beautiful. Nothing I could have done would have prepared me for this phase between baby and big boy, but I accidentally prepared my kid for it just by loving him well. Once in a while, despite all the missteps, parenthood works out like that.
Now, I just hope what I am doing now will help me survive the tweens and teens!
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