I woke up this morning the mother of an eight year old. Just like that. No fanfare or pomp. It was after all a typical Friday morning, replete with the usual chaos and griping that often characterize mornings in our house. We were so late and so frazzled that there was no time for retrospection. No time to reminisce about the moment, 2,920 days ago, that you looked at me for the first time.
Nor the 2,919 days that followed. And yet, I stole a glance at your sweet freckled face after you climbed in bed to snuggle with us this morning and could not believe that you are eight.
To be fair, you make it hard to believe. With your tiny stature and your sweet smile, you don’t look eight. You barely look six. And because of that, it is so easy to forget that you are growing up. It is certainly a delusion under which I willingly suffer.
Still. There are signs. That half-sigh-half-grunt you now make that is the verbal equivalent of an eye roll. Which I notice you have also mastered. Dude, I get it. It’s a rite of passage. I did it too. But maybe we can just cut down on it a little?
The way that you will argue with me over a fact that I objectively know to be true with unparalleled conviction just because your friends told you it was so.
The ease with which you converse with adults. About adult things.
The sly smile that appears when you are reading Calvin & Hobbs and you get the joke. Not the silly little kid joke. The real joke. The one about existentialism meant for adults.
There is a part of you that wants to grow up so badly. But the other part of you – the bigger part – wants to remain a little boy. You want to snuggle in bed and read books. You want to hold my hand. You want to give people hugs instead of handshakes. You don’t want to know about the ways that people can hurt each other. You sense there are things that you are not ready to learn.
I know that struggle. I remember it. You know that funny feeling you get in your stomach and the anxiety that sometimes wakes you up at night? That is your heart telling you that you are not yet ready to lose the wonder and magic and sweetness that you see in the world.
You lost part of it when my dad died. This wasn’t just presented to you as a fait accompli – one of the many things that grownups tell you to accept as fact even though your mind cannot possibly comprehend it. No, this movement in the earth’s crust was something you experienced. You were a witness to it. Your world changed on that July night. Not just because someone you love was taken from you in an instant. Not just because you felt, for the first time, raw pain and fear. But also because you learned that the kind of love that makes the pain of loss so intense is the same love that can make you whole again.
You lost part of it at UVA basketball camp, as silly as it sounds. In the midst of unbearable physical pain, you also experienced the unbearable pain of realizing that there are things you cannot will yourself to overcome. You accepted that. And you then you figured out a way around it.
You will continue to lose it. With every experience. With every book you read. With every conversation you have with your friends. With every show you watch. Bit by bit, that wonder and magic and sweetness and innocence and excitement will be replaced by knowledge. Sarcasm. Adolescence.
But let me tell you something sweet boy. You will get it all back. One day, years from now, when you have your own baby, you will see all the wonder and magic and sweetness and excitement in the world again. That is the greatest gift you have ever given me.
But today you are just 8. Today there is no time for growing up. The world is still full of wonder and magic and sweetness and excitement. Today you are still my little boy.