There’s a lot about parenthood for which no one prepared me. I mean, I generally knew what I was getting into as far as losing sleep, changing nightmarish diapers, cleaning up spills and the like. I’m the second of six, so I had witnessed those kinds of things plenty and felt prepared.
But over the past few months, I’ve become increasingly aware of the worst horror of parenthood: the kids grow up.
Now I’m sure you’re saying to yourself, “Well duh, Eli. Of course they grow up. That comes with the territory.” I guess I realized that my Avey would grow up eventually, but no one prepared me for how fast, or how hard, it would be.
It all came psychologically crashing down on me about 6 months ago. My dear aunt has been periodically shipping her daughter’s clothes to us for when Avey’s ready to fit into them. Kira and I were going through them when I held up an item that was particularly big. It hit me in that moment that she is growing – all the time! She is going to be big enough to fit into those clothes, whether I’m ready for it or not. And I am far from ready.
Now, as her third birthday approaches, I am constantly haunted by the realization that too soon, I will be unable to ever hold my 2-year-old Avey again. Too soon, she will be big enough to get dressed all by herself. Too soon she’ll decide that sand stars are no longer cool. Too soon she, like the rest of us, will learn to overlook the smallest beauties of the world. She’ll walk right by a ladybug without admiring it for several minutes and making me talk for it. Too soon, she’ll realize that Kermit, Gonzo, and Elmo are just puppets. Too soon she, like the rest of us, will begin to worry about things that don’t matter.
I admit that my distress is almost entirely selfish. I do want her to grow and learn, but even more, I want to continue to experience the world through her eyes. I want to always think of the wind as a chance to fly a kite – not as a nuisance that will mess up my hair. I want to always see a pile of sand as a wonderland – not another hassle to keep out of clothes. I want to go outside and notice the chirping of the birds, even above the noise of traffic. I want to always get a huge smile from a cheesy song. But most selfishly of all, I want to always see myself the way she sees me: strong, wise, competent, flawless, and invincible. What a miracle it is to experience unconditional love from the embodiment of innocence!
Although I am fortunate to have had a lot of time at home with her for the past 3 years, it is pitifully short of adequate. I’ve missed things. I’ve been at school when she wanted me. I’ve been tired when she wanted to play. I’ve had to work when she wanted to go on a walk. And too soon, I won’t get to do those things with her 2-year-old self. Time just slips mercilessly by. And it is not enough. Maybe if I could spend a lifetime with her every week of her life I could be ready for this next birthday. Maybe that would be enough. But as it is now, 365 days to turn a year older is entirely unfair.
I’m sure that age 3 will have just as many beautiful moments and hilarious phases, yet I can’t help but feel that I’m being forced to close a chapter in a book that I haven’t finished reading. And it is the most refreshing book I’ve ever opened.