Do you ever catch yourself wondering, When, exactly, did life get so complicated?
When did it start going downhill?
Well, I’ll tell you. It started when you turned five.
I never babied my baby. I had heard a couple refer to their two-year-old as a “baby” some years earlier, and thought it was so ridiculous that I was determined to reserve that terminology exclusively for my child’s first year.
On his first birthday we celebrated by eating cupcakes, opening presents, and removing all bottles from the house. Sippy cups only from that day forward.
He was no longer a baby, after all.
And as he grew, I parented him with a hedge of protection but also with a fair amount of space. I gave him whole sandwiches when other kids were still having their food cut into small pieces. I used big words and sentences instead of easy ones. We exchanged the sippies for big-boy cups to see if he could learn through trial-and-error. He did things on his own, made messes, made mistakes, and got frustrated. He also mastered skills and experienced the pride of success.
But I was always there to pick up the pieces if something went awry, comfort him when he got upset, and help him out if something just wasn’t working.
He might have been learning about the world on his own terms, but he was never alone.
Until September 2014.
Five is hard, y’all. Kindergarten is serious business. They’ve got a million things to teach these little kids, and there are a lot of little kids. It’s a big transition.
The same week that school started, it was Promotion Sunday at our church. That meant Conlan moved to another new class in Sunday School – upstairs, with the big kids.
We were driving home that afternoon and I looked at him in the rear-view mirror. He looked worn out and a little forlorn, peering out the window and watching the cars go by.
“How was your new class today, buddy?”
“Mommy, I never get to play anymore.”
And just like that, with the passing of the Labor Day holiday, my son was thrown from the world of play into the world of education. It hit me hard. And I suddenly wished that this little boy, who I had determined from the start not to baby, could hold tight to his little-boy-ness for just a little bit longer.
And he’s also on his own. There is a teacher – a fabulous teacher – but part of her job is to shepherd these twenty-four little children into the world of independence and autonomy and big-kid-ness. And she will be there in tough situations, but she will undoubtedly let them flail a bit to learn the hard lessons and grow in their abilities.
And it used to be me standing watch, letting him experience discomfort and frustration and stepping in when things got too difficult. But the truth is, I probably stood a whole lot closer and rescued him a whole lot sooner.
I never babied my baby, but I wish I could baby him now.
Once you turn five, it’s all downhill.