We just went to visit a family member who has a new baby. Oh the sweetness! Being a few years away from the neonatal phase, I had forgotten how small they really are.
Of course, being on the side of the spectators rather than the side of the caregivers is much easier. We all remember when our babies were born, but somehow it’s hard to appreciate it when you’re sore, sleep deprived, and overwhelmed with hormones.
As my sons (who look huge in comparison) held this little one, I couldn’t help but think of that phrase we hear all the time: “Why can’t they stay little forever ?”
What is it about the inevitable growth of our children that evokes these bittersweet feelings?
Part of that, of course, has to do with the innate attraction to all things innocent and small. We are all attracted to babies. Even my rambunctious 4-year-old was captivated by the smallness of a newborn. It’s human nature to want to watch over and protect another being so small and new.
So it seems the bittersweet part comes into play when we realize that this innocence doesn’t last forever. The only thing I noticed with my 8 year old son was not so much my sadness at his physical growth, but the slow loss of a certain innocence.
We try to shelter and protect ourselves, but the outside world creeps in. That loss of innocence when they learn that first “bad” word from friends at school. This realization one day that they no longer want to watch sesame street, but rather superheroes who have a certain aspect of good versus evil. We ask ourselves why can’t the world be “good” and not “bad”.
Growing up, I remember my mom always saying she wanted to have a version of each of us that stayed small and one that grew. This is a mother’s heart – we revel in their learning new skills, but mourn their growth at the same time.
At my stage in life, I kind of feel like I have this situation, even if it’s for a short time. With the youngest at 4 and the oldest at 8, they are like past and future versions of childhood before my eyes. For me, the 4-year-old child is still small. He always likes to be held and cuddled. The 8-year-old is still cuddly, but certainly isn’t small. His lanky arms and legs hang from me. But its maturity is both refreshing and alarming. How can this boy who was just a rambunctious toddler discuss everything from religion to math to space travel?
Yet with each new step, new challenges arise. It’s no longer breastfeeding and sleepless nights, but it’s now teaching them how to deal with friendships and outside influences.
How to help them learn new freedoms and stay safe. At each stage, as mothers, we have to stretch ourselves more, face our fears and sometimes even relive our own childhood.
Maybe that’s why we shrink from the passage of time and their growing maturity, because it forces us to grow too.
Just when we think we have understood our children, they change. With each passing year, they are the catalyst for our development – new experiences, being more patient than we thought, figuring out how to love that unique person.
Why can’t they stay small forever?
Because if it wasn’t fleeting, then maybe we wouldn’t cherish childhood so much.
Because if we didn’t see them grow and blossom into maturity, then how would we ever see the fruit of our labor?
Because through their development, we push ourselves to be more courageous and to love more deeply.