From the day you were born — actually, even before that, when you were the reason I stayed up late reading pregnancy books and spending hours comparing nursing pillows — I have been trying to help you reach your potential. Trying to ensure that every decision I make on your behalf, while those decisions are still mine to make, takes you one step closer to being a happy and whole and fulfilled adult — a positive addition to the world.
I picture your future in many different ways, trying to imagine what kind of grown-up you’ll be. I have only the highest of hopes for you. Occasionally, though, I let my mind wander through the valley of what-ifs that accompany every concerned parent’s thoughts. You’re my firstborn, my baby, and by default, my learning curve and my guinea pig. While your siblings have the benefit of my experience, you never have. Instead, you’ve been raised largely by trial and error, but always with the best of intentions in mind. With you, all I can ever do is hope I’ve done OK.
As much as I envision your adult life, you’d think I wouldn’t be surprised by it creeping up on me. But here I am. You just turned 11, and you’ll start sixth grade in the fall — a milestone. I’ve never had an 11-year-old before, so you’ll have to bear with me as we both muddle through your burgeoning independence. I suspect one of us will take it harder than the other. I suspect that person will be me.
You’re changing. I hear it in the childhood squeakiness leaving your voice, see it in the lengthening of your gangly limbs and the absence of the sweet, babyish roundness that I felt would stick around forever.
When you were little, the days crept by; your need for me was mountainous, and I couldn’t see the peak. I suppose that’s why I’m looking at you today and finding it hard to believe that we’ve come to this point so soon. It’s like I closed my eyes and willed myself to get through the day-to-day challenges, and when I opened them I could suddenly see the pinnacle. I’m not saying we’re there, and I realize that the upcoming teenage years are probably going to be the hardest part of the trek, but I am both amazed and saddened that this much of your childhood has already gone by.
How much did I miss while I was distracted by the minutiae of motherhood? How did this happen so quickly? Now that I know, I can be sure to savor it more with your brothers. But for you, your earliest years are something that now I have to look back on, like a wet footprint in the sand, filling up as fast as it was left.
Where did my baby go?
At this age, you’re still young enough to retain much of the silliness, the innocence, the wonder of childhood. I see flashes of them from time to time, but they’re becoming fewer and farther between. In their place are little things that catch me off guard and let me know that your transition to adulthood is going to be here sooner than I’d like.
You catch on to grown-up innuendos now and laugh, and carry on lengthy conversations about new technology, and hide notes from girls so I won’t read them, and close the door to your bedroom as you sit at your computer, the world blocked out by earbuds. You vacillate between moody and mature. You handle your responsibilities, help your little brothers, and practice critical thinking — stuff that almost-grown-ups do. You hop back and forth over the invisible line between childhood and adolescence, and leave me guessing as to which side I’ll be dealing with at any given moment.
You still need me, but you don’t really need me — not the way you did as a little boy. And I am simultaneously thrilled and terrified by this revelation. And I know that soon enough, before I realize it has even happened, you’ll be finished with your metamorphosis and I’ll have to let go.
I don’t want to mourn for the baby you were; I want to celebrate the boy you are and the man you’re becoming. But you’ll have to forgive me because I’m struggling a bit, the way mothers have since probably the dawn of mankind. And there will be times when I look at you with tears in my eyes for no apparent reason. It’s always like that when you’re not ready to move on.
But moving on always happens. Ready or not.