My son is teetering. He is riding the physical and emotional see-saw between youth and adulthood. I couldn't help but stare at him as we rode the subway recently; his long, skinny legs jutting out into the aisle; his sweet, angular face that somehow, at sometime, lost its childhood chubbiness. Everything about him is so familiar, yet at the same time, brand new.
Parenting is a series of milestones so I should be used to this by now, right? I mean, after all, he weighed eight pounds when I brought him home from the hospital and he hasn't stopped gaining and growing since. I witnessed all the transitions: newborn to toddler to young child to tween. But this journey into adolescence is different. It's a real glimpse into the future; a window to the grown man he will become. I am thrilled for him and yet naggingly aware of a thin vein of sadness that travels through me. A sadness that starts at my heart and eventually seeps into my brain, forming the words, He's no longer a baby.
And yes, I know he will always be my baby, or so the aphorism goes, but when the physical and mental changes are so profound, the word baby doesn't easily come to mind. Until, that is, he firmly plants his feet on the child-like side of the see-saw and puts his head on my lap, giggling and acting silly. Or he cries over something only a child would cry over. Or he asks me if everything will be OK, even when he knows everything already is. He has one foot steadfastly rooted in childhood, while the rest of him tumbles and turns headlong into manhood. As a parent, it's a wonder to watch and a privilege to be a part of.
In those early days of parenthood, overwhelmed and sleep deprived, I would sometimes imagine what the teenage years would be like. But it seemed so far away that it was never really a more than a fuzzy picture. And now that we're here, I realize there was no way I could've seen the young man he would become, at least not back then. It took 13 years of living, growing, learning, struggling and succeeding. Many steps forward, more than a few steps back. And even though it now feels like the blink of an eye, it was a long journey full of many milestones. Each one a step to the young man he is today.
And so I've realized that I, too, am teetering right along with him. Part of me is holding on to the baby I've known and nurtured while the rest of me is pushing him forward, urging him to make his own way, be his own man. It's a struggle at times. Just like him, there are moments when I want to hold on tight to the baby he was; 3 years old and bouncing up and down on a literal see-saw instead of the figurative one he's on today. Sometimes I'm the one who needs to be told that everything will be OK. But then he bounds into the house with his big feet and burgeoning maturity, and I know that everything already is.
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