Growing up is wonderful; it’s miraculous. New words. New accomplishments and abilities. But it’s also hard and scary and sometimes it’s sad. It’s not just the goldfish that don’t last a week or the blankies that get lost, there are the everyday losses of not being little anymore.
“I can sit under the dining-room table and make it my house … Grown ups can’t sit under the table,” says the heroine of Charlotte Zolotow’s I Like to Be Little, “That’s why I like to be little.”
I remember the day my daughter realized that she could no longer sit in the cupboard, squeezed next to the lazy susan and pretending it was her own cozy cottage. She was dismayed the day she couldn’t duck in. She wandered the house trying to find a new home but no little hidey hole was quite as lovely as her that corner cupboard.
“I guess I’m growing up,” she sighed and she was sad.
Part of our job as parents is to urge our kids to go forward at a pace that keeps them oriented to the wonderful future that waits for them. We tell them to pick up their clothes with the idea that we’re helping them grow into people who pick things up. We correct the way they slice the bread or direct them when to flip the grilled cheese. We cheer them on when they round the bases or put together the Lego model or finish the first chapter book. That’s right and good but it’s not all that parenting is. We also need to let them slip back a little bit when they’re going forward fast. Sometimes the child who finishes her first chapter book needs assurance that you will still read to her at night.
The everyday losses of growing up aren’t always clear cut; sometimes your child might have a gloomy day and not be able to articulate why. She only knows that she’d like to curl up in your lap although she no longer fits. Or you might find him watching Sesame Street instead of Teen Titans and when you smile at him curled up on the couch he asks if you’ll make him a PB&J and cut it into triangles just like you used to when he was small.
When you see them reaching back, go a little slower, lean into them a little more and be generous with hugs. Allow them to grieve the very real everyday losses so that they will be ready to celebrate the everyday joys.
You know, parents aren’t the only ones who get misty over old photos.