The other day, I sat and watched my 3-year-old nap. He lay there like an angel, curled on his side with summer light filtering through the blinds.
Watching my children sleep is a pastime of mine. (I’m not the only one, right?) When I watch them sleep, they look like babies to me. The rest of the day, they are zipping around the world at lightning speed, never quite still enough for me to take them in this way. While they sleep, I can finally just gaze at their features and absorb their essence.
While I watched my little boy napping there, I saw what a baby he still is — his taut skin and perfect lashes, with his little fist squeezed tight in a dream. But I also saw something else. His legs were long and tan, with not one ounce of baby fat left on them. His face looked longer to me and had a seriousness to it I hadn’t seen before, as though he was thinking bigger, more complex thoughts.
With the summer flying by, I hadn’t thought of it much, but this September, my little boy — my youngest child, my last baby — turns 4. And when I saw how his babyhood was slipping away at such a rapid pace, I started to cry.
Four feels different than 1, 2, or 3. Those are all baby years, toddler years. Those are the years of diapers (or getting out of them). They’re the years of learning to talk and continuing to muddle their words in the cutest, more precious toddler-speak. They’re the years of needing naps or periodic breaks during the day to ward off meltdowns. They’re the years of sippy cups, finger foods, carrying endless snacks everywhere you go, and making sure you always have wipes, a diaper, or a change of clothes.
They’re the years of needing to be carried or pushed in a stroller. They’re the years of asking for cuddles, and still fitting perfectly in their parent’s lap. They’re the years of wispy hair that still smells like a baby for a good long time, and cheeks and thighs that still have at least a few ounces of baby fat left on them to pinch.
Four needs to be carried, but can also walk a good few blocks. Four wants cuddles but doesn’t ask for them as much. Four fits in your lap, but with his bony legs sticking out the side. Four’s hair is thicker, and you have to rifle through it to find the soft tufts of baby-soft hair buried beneath.
Four has its fair share of meltdowns (only now you get to add a touch of sass to them). Four still says some words wrong, but also understands so much more than you realize, and is starting to understand sarcasm and nuance. Four gets your jokes. Four can make it through the day without a nap or a rest (most of the time).
Maybe it’s because I’m going through it right now, and maybe it’s because he’s my youngest, my last, last, last baby. But I’m having a problem with 4 — a big problem. I don’t like it, not one bit. And I’m not standing for it.
The only thing that’s in my favor here is that I have a 9-year-old (who will be turning 10 soon; don’t even get me started on that), so my 4-year-old will still feel little in comparison for a long while. But I also know how quickly the years will pass until he will turn 9. And maybe that knowledge is part of what is destroying me here.
So while I can, I’m going to baby him all I want. I don’t care what anyone thinks. So he doesn’t want to walk the three blocks to pre-K? I’ll carry him on my hip. So the tiny scrape he got on his knee shouldn’t hurt as much as his blood-curdling cries seem to indicate? I’ll take him onto my lap and shower him with kisses if he believes for one second that Mommy’s kisses take away the pain.
So to my sweet, sweet sleeping son: Please stop growing up. Let’s figure out a way, okay?
But if you must do it, please do it very, very slowly, and with kindness for your poor, misty-eyed mom.
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