My 10 year old said he would be totally fine with staying at his cousin’s house for “a week - well maybe four days, but maybe a week, too.”
“Won’t you miss mom and dad?” I asked, baiting what I thought was a surefire means to hooking the answer his mother wanted to hear.
He just gave me a coy grin and shrugged his shoulders.
What happened to the little boy who would cry if we didn’t turn off a movie when the credits started rolling? Where’s the wee lad who nearly pissed himself and sobbed, snot running down his face sitting passenger side in a go-kart at Oaks Park Amusement? What happened to my little Oochie Boochie Man? (Yeah, a weird term of endearment I made up when he was an infant.)
Growing up, that’s what happened.
It’s a well-trodden path to wax poetic in melancholic voice about children growing up. In my 20s and even into my early 30s I didn’t seem to notice that friend’s and family member’s kids got older, went to high school, and moved on into the world.
I think the first time it struck me was when I learned that a guy I worked with at a pizza place in high school had died: Dave. Dave was probably in his late 30’s when I knew him. He had a young daughter, maybe 6 or 7 when I was in high school. Dave died when I was in my late 20s - a good 10 years after I left the pizza place. Dave was a remote relation - married to my dad’s ex-wife’s ex-sister-in-law. (Should I even call that a “relation”? Maybe I should have stuck to “a guy I knew.”)
When my dad told me Dave had died my first reaction was something akin to “oh man - his poor little girl.” My dad snickered a bit. “She’s 17 or 18 by now you know.”
Wow. Yeah, that’s right. Here I had framed this little girl in my memory as a 1st or 2nd grader, and in all likelihood she was about to graduate high school. That likely didn’t make it any less traumatic for her, losing her father. Besides the point, really, it was perhaps the first time I realized that sometimes we develop memories of particular people in a vacuum. Especially kids.
Yet here I am. Past the 40 mark. My oldest just turned 10; my youngest 7. I’ve had a kid for a decade… a decade. Of course even decades don’t mean as much anymore. I think of the span from 1980 to 1990 and, of course as a kid that was a lifetime. Today I think about 2000 and the whole Y2K thing as some fairly recent event - people getting riled up for what ended up being a total bust. Okay so that was 16, almost 17 years ago. Kids conceived that New Year’s Eve have probably taken my order at Subway or cut me off out on highway 99W in the last 6 months. Yet it feels like Y2k and 9/11 happened, you know, just a few years ago. How long will I mentally calculate (with incredulity) how old I was when a millenial co-worker mentions what year they were born? Will I just resign myself at some point to “being old”?
Yet to circle back around, I look at my kids and think, how in the hell did this happen? How did my first born, my baby boy, the most beautiful thing that ever came onto this earth turn into this ball-scratching, armpit hair-sprouting, fart-joke telling, lanky kid that is “totally okay” with going to his cousin’s house for a week? HOW DID THIS HAPPEN???
I’ve got no regrets. I feel like I really listened and took heed when friends and family told me to “enjoy it; it goes by fast” in regards to kids growing up. Well, I have enjoyed it. Watching his first steps. Looking on in bemusement as he yelled “Swiper no swiping!” at the nurse who was drawing blood from his newborn-brother’s heel. That first successful bike ride and subsequent crash that took 4 inches of skin off his shin.
No longer my pig-nosed Oochie Boochie Man, that nose took on a more human shape thankfully and now it’s buried in an Ipod, seeing how many likes he has on Musically or playing with Snapchat filters. He’d rather watch YouTube videos about Minecraft than snuggle up on the couch with his family for movie night (although I still force him too). He’s growing up, and it hurts my heart to think in less than 10 years he could be out of this house - off making his way in the world on some grand adventure or sitting in a college class or taking his lumps in boot camp or (God I hope not) watching YouTube videos about Minecraft in my basement.
None of it sounds good, no matter the inevitability. One day you pick up your child for the last time. You clean up a skinned knee for the last time; you wipe away a tear for the last time. But you’ll never know that was it.
It’s ironic, really, that your success as a parent is basically measured by getting your kids to leave you, to be brave, to go out in the world and find their own way. It’s kind of a cruel jape that all the love, attention and devotion that you bestow upon your children is really intended to give them the ability to walk out that door someday and become a well-adjusted adult all their own, no longer in need of mommy and daddy.
If you’ll excuse me now, it seems I’ve got something stuck in my eye.