But you guys, my kids grew up so fast.
Bracing for the future as mother of a big kid
My oldest son had his first visit to the orthodontist recently, and it was there I saw my future.
Not just the future of monstrous debt and gleaming dental hardware but the future where my role in Jack’s life becomes, at best, incidental.
OK, he’s only 6. Maybe I’m being a little melodramatic.
But only a little.
We were sitting in the waiting room when an assistant came out and announced that she would need some X-rays and that Jack would need to come with her to the back.
"Do you want your mom to come with you?" she asked.
I started gathering my purse and sweater, preparing to accompany my baby to the X-ray room. But he glanced over his shoulder as he walked by me. "No, thanks," he said. "She can stay here."
As they walked away, chatting easily, I heard the assistant say to my son, "You are such a big boy."
"Yes," he replied, "I’m in first grade, you know."
I sat in the waiting room with another mom, who must have sensed how surprised I was to be, for the first time, out of the loop of my son’s life. She leaned sympathetically in my direction.
"I have to park a block away from my sons’ school to get my goodbye kisses in the mornings," she said. "They always say ‘Muhther, puh-leez.’ "
One of her sons was sitting nearby, playing a video game the orthodontist keeps around to make kids want to come see him.
Her other son was in the back somewhere, having his hardware adjusted. They were pretty big kids, maybe 9 to 12 years old, and the sight of them made me realize I had never really envisioned my sons much beyond 5 or 6.
(Well, except for the ideas I have of them at 35, successful and fulfilled in their chosen fields, compassionate, intelligent men who marry women I adore — you know, stuff like that.)
But I had never mentally walked myself through the icky realities of the growing-up years. My brain (probably in self-defense) had always just skipped straight from kindergarten to graduate-school thesis, glossing over the acne and proms and parallel-parking lessons in between.
I guess pretty soon I’ll go from unnecessary during minor medical procedures to downright mortifying and not fit to be seen in public.
It’s a rule of growing up that you have to find your parents appallingly uncool for several years before you can work your way back around to asking them for advice.
My son and I rounded out our visit to the orthodontist by learning that his little mouth is already crowded with too many teeth and that we’re probably looking at three years of braces, in phases starting in a year or so. He held my hand, under mild protest, as we crossed the parking lot, then climbed into his booster seat and deftly buckled his seatbelt.
"Can we go get a chocolate malt since Sonic is right over there?" he asked, pointing down the street.
I had a sudden, vivid image of him the first time I loaded him into a car, just days old and impossibly small in his infant seat, like a tiny seed of a person inside a giant, padded pod. At the time, it seemed unbelievable that my husband and I would be able to make a kid out of such a squishy, helpless baby. But it happened. And, now that it has, it feels like it took about five minutes.
That night I read my son three Frog and Toad stories and scratched his back before he went to sleep, and I wondered how much longer he would let me crawl in next to him for this bedtime ritual.
I’m not usually very sentimental; I did not mourn the passing of the baby stage or get weepy as my son headed off to preschool. I have loved watching him get bigger and smarter and more interesting every day.
But that moment at the orthodontist’s office has hung with me for weeks — the sight of my oldest son’s straight, narrow back as he walked easily away from me, talking comfortably with a stranger as he turned a corner and went out of sight.
I told my mother how perplexed I have been by my reaction to such a seemingly inconsequential event. She sighed and nodded. "Our baby is gone," she said. "He’s a big kid now."
Bye-bye, baby. It was wonderful knowing you.