Two nights ago, I snuggled in bed with my son, Gavin. His sixth birthday is today. This isn’t really consequential. However, every time one of my kids has a birthday, my mama heart has to prepare itself in the days leading up to the actual birthday.
Sometimes this means going through all our old photos. Sometimes it’s spoiling the birthday kid a little more than I usually do. And sometimes it means just simply lingering with them a little longer, whether it’s bedtime or playing a game or reading or doing a puzzle.
This particular night, we were reading a chapter out of a book he got for Christmas (Christmasaurus! Super cute book!). We finished up. We said our prayers. I got him his cup of water, and I tucked him in, making sure his stuffed animals were all neatly in a row. He pulled up an extra blanket to keep some of them warm.
I gave him a hug, and several kisses on the cheek. I breathed in his little boy smell, his hair tickling my nose. I clearly remembered years ago, our rocker in the same spot where his big boy bed sits now, nursing him several times a night, exhausted from not sleeping but overwhelmed with love for my little boy. At the time, I couldn’t fathom him being big…sprinting down a field to catch a football, leaping into the deep end of the pool without floaties, speeding his bike down the sidewalk with no training wheels.
And yet here we are.
A wave of bittersweetness washed over me. (When does that stop happening, mamas? It never seems to fade for me; in fact, it seems to get stronger as the years go on).
“Gavin,” I said between cheek kisses. “When are you gonna stop letting me kiss on you like this?”
“Mom, you can kiss me whenever you want!” he chirped. He paused, holding up up one finger. “Except when I’m taller than you. Then you can’t.”
I feigned a sad face. “Aw, man,” I said.
He looked at me for a second. Then he smiled, his dimples sinking deep into those cheeks. “Ok fine,” he said. “You can forever.”
He’ll never know tears pricked my eyes, and I had to bite my lip to keep from crying. He’ll never know how amazing and how hard it is to watch him grow up. Every birthday that rolls around, it never ceases to surprise me how painful it is to consider the marching on of time. He’ll never know how often I have to scold myself to stop the torture of thinking one day he’ll fly the nest.
I’ll never tell him because I don’t want to weigh him down. I want to see him fly.
All of us mamas can agree that watching our kids grow up is difficult. The tiny years are hard, yes, but they’re so much easier to keep in the fold when they’re little. As they grow, they take risks. They make friends. They leave for school. They learn to be independent: to walk down to the neighbor’s house alone, to jump on the school bus, to do their first sleepover, to attend an overnight camp for the first time. Before our very eyes, those things morph into getting their driver’s license, dating, and considering life after high school. It’s hard for me sometimes to separate my own sadness from this healthy way of life where our kids become strong and independent. What do I do if I can’t snuggle fat babies on my lap anymore?
As always, it makes me think of how the Lord views us. Seasons and trials come and go. He walks us through them all, challenges us, and allows hard things so we can learn. Did God walk me through being pregnant? Yes. Did He hold my hand as I raised those babies, exhausted and bleary-eyed and full of joy? Yes. Will He continue to be there as I grapple with all the parenting decisions and issues we’ll have as our kids turn into preteens and teenagers and young adults? Yes.
Does God want me to stay in one season of life, just because I adore it? No.
Just like my kids, I need to reach and stretch and grow as a person myself. Once I get past the sadness of my babies growing up, and I realize I can grow too, I actually feel a lightness. I can miss the little years while allowing myself to grow and change and be open-handed for new opportunities. I can do all the stuff I wanted to when they were little but couldn’t!
As bad as I just want to be a mom of littles…endless days at the playground and the zoo, endless cuddles and sweetness…God pushes me forward. And it’s not productive for me to constantly relive and remember the tiny years. For a little bit? Of course. But to obsess and cry and be heartbroken over it? No. God doesn’t want that, and Gavin doesn’t want it either. I don’t allow this for my own kids. And God doesn’t allow it for me. We are made for more than that.
When that bitter sweetness comes creeping in, here’s what I do:
I force myself to be grateful. I count my blessings regarding Gavin: that he’s healthy, that he’s sleeping better than he used to, that he’s strong, that he’s good in school, that we’ve had so much fun together as he’s grown, and that, Lord willing, we get to continue parenting him through life.
I force myself to embrace the future. I do remember several times, when they were tiny, thinking, “I can’t wait until we don’t plan around naps!” or “I can’t wait until we can do dinner and a movie together as a family!” Or “I can’t wait until they can shower on their own.” Yes, that little years are great, but now they do most things by themselves! Praise the Lord! They can get their own breakfast in the morning and I don’t even have to get out of bed! Praise the Lord! THEY EVEN BRING ME COFFEE IN BED SOMETIMES!! PRAISE BABY JESUS! We can do so many more things as a family now! Praise the Lord! They can stay up late now! Praise the Lord! We all stayed up until midnight for the first time for New Year’s Eve last week, doing puzzles and hanging with neighbors, and it was so fun.
I also force myself to not constantly ask him why he has to grow up or why he won’t let me squish him anymore. There’s no reason for me to make him feel guilty for doing what God made him to do: grow up. I don’t want him to feel bad about wanting to hang out with friends instead of me or for wanting some space as he gets older. That’s all normal.
As I struggle to let go of little years, what can I be doing with this new season? What is God preparing me for? What new worlds will open up to me? I’m still a mom, yes. I always will be. But how can I be growing and embracing this new season of life? There is so much good stuff coming!
I don’t see Gavin sitting around crying because he can’t fit on my lap like he used to or because he has to be in school all day now. He jumps up, practices throwing a baseball, practices his free throws, practices jumping into the pool, practices his reading. He leaps into every new challenge, embraces it, and takes his natural tendency to push for more to the extreme. And he’s happy all the time. He doesn’t wallow in the past. He’s always pressing ahead.
I want to do the same. I’ll take a hint from my almost-six year old and focus on new paths. As he sets an example for me, I’ll set it right back for him. We’ll do it together.