My eldest child, my son, turned 13. When a young child has a birthday, it's pretty common to hear the parent say, "My baby isn't a baby anymore!" or "I can't believe my little one will start school next year!" or "He's getting so grown up!" Over the years, I made similar statements, but in the back of my mind I knew I doth protest too much. However sincere "my little boy is so grown up" may have sounded, I knew it wasn't true. For all my professing of his grown up-ness, I knew he was still a little kid, still my little guy... and then he turned 13.
Throughout the past few years, there were obviously signs that his childhood was indeed coming to an end. He no longer wanted nor played with his Hot Wheels. He found being at Toys R Us boring, begging not for a toy, but to leave the store. His legs were getting too long for the swings and slides at the park, eliminating that as a fun destination too. In the evenings he gradually preferred reading to himself over me reading to him, preferring his narrator voice to mine. All signs indicated that his childhood was indeed more behind him then ahead of him, more lived then yet to be experienced. Once your kid becomes a teenager, it kind of feels like those crazy competitive cooking shows. The clock clicks down to zero, someone yells "times up" and you as the parent step back, hands in the air, and wonder if you really did all you could with the time you had.
Over the years, even with all the mounting evidence pointing towards the opposite, the obvious mile markers indicating otherwise, I could still see the child, the little boy, in my son. It was there, clinging a little bit around his cheeks, lingering lightly in his voice and laugh, still present in the way he moved in leaps and hops from room to room. Still, it had been years since my son had mixed up his use of pronouns. Any latent yet endearing speech issues had figured themselves out. He no longer needed me to tie his shoe, or open a box of cereal, or even get something off a shelf. Each time those little signs of independence showed themselves to me, I felt at once both proud and wistful. I also felt the curtain coming down on a phase of my life, that being the mom of a little boy.
As much as saddens me to admit it, all the moments I will ever have with my son as a little boy have already happened. All of his little boy life has been lived. There are no more little guy moments to be made. They are over. A good friend of mine once told me how much he disliked watching home movies of his daughters when they were little. "Those people don't exist anymore. It's just too depressing to look at those little girls and realize that they are no longer in my life." I know what he means. Sure you've got your maturing sons and daughters in your life, but what you will never have again are your "kids." They no longer exist. To coin a phrase, you can't have a child and raise it too.
I'm not completely weepy about my son's childhood being behind him, us. There is an intelligent, curious, somewhat cynical and sarcastic person emerging before my eyes, and I have to say, as cute and as cuddly as my son was as a little guy, this older version is pretty interesting. Recently I offered to help him as he built a 3-D model of an atom of aluminum. "No offense Mom, but I think I know this stuff better than you do," was his response. It took me a half a second to realize he was absolutely right and that this would not be the last time I would hear that line spoken. In all honesty I'm not thrilled with my son's need to take the polar opposite position from me in every discussion we have. It's really irritating. Worse is the realization that he does indeed know exactly how to push every one of my buttons and uses that knowledge way too often. I'm not joyfully embracing the shift from "you're best mommy in the whole world" to "you just don't get it Mom." That part of his growing up is "unpleasant," in the same way the back labor I endured to bring him into the world was "uncomfortable," painful but par for the course.
My son only wanted cash for his 13th birthday, but I couldn't help but wrap up a couple packs of baseball cards, a Pez dispenser with its candy bathtubs, and a Lego White House construction kit, gifts more for me then for him really. "Thanks Mom," he said and gave me a hug. I noted no bend in my knee what so ever during that embrace. We were eye-to-eye, shoulder-to-shoulder.
An hour or so later, I walked by his room and peaked in. I expected to see him listening to his music, but I saw him building the Lego White House instead, Pez wrappers on the floor, and baseball cards sorted into piles. My gifts had served their purpose, acting like speed bumps, briefly causing my son to slow down on his road to adulthood.