Isn’t it obnoxious when parents refer to their nearly-grown children as their babies? My mom is guilty of it… and I haven’t been a baby for over 40 years. That obnoxiousness must be hereditary in some way because I’m going to do the exact same thing.
My baby turns ten today.
It’s been a decade since we birthed the last of our four. Ten years since the good doctors stitched my belly up for the last time. (“Your uterus is tired,” my OB said. “No more babies.” I’m pretty sure Chris high-fived her in the operating room.) Ten years since we swabbed that last nasty little bit of umbilical cord. A decade. I used to calculate everything in terms of car loans. Life is apparently simpler for me in multiples of five. By now, we could have paid off two car loans. That’s a lot of car payments. And a great deal of years.
George is ten today. We no longer have any single-digit kids. Two teenagers and two double-digiters. Crazy how fast that happened.
I used to define myself in terms of efficient baby and toddler care. Change a diaper, sterilize a pacifier, and quarter grapes for a toddler simultaneously? No problem. (Alright, I never sterilized pacifiers after my first-baby craziness wore off. I mean, germ exposure helps build their immunities, right?) My days used to revolve around naps and stories (the shorter, the better) and laundry and early bedtimes (the earlier, the better).
Now my days just revolve around laundry. Big, crunchy, stinky socks — not cute, tiny, baby socks.
Although we never co-slept, I used to love lazy mornings when my pudgy toddlers would crawl into bed and snuggle with me. (But only after their digital clocks read 7:00. They were well-trained in acceptable wake-up times. Play in your rooms all you want before 7:00, but don’t wake me up until after that magical number appears on your bedroom clock.) I loved to run my fingers through their tousled curls and hold their warm, wiggly bodies close to me. I never really loved the Teletubbies — in fact, they scared the shit out of me — but I watched, anyway. Now those once-babies have big-kid morning breath, and Mary Claire cringes if I come anywhere near her hair.
I used to gather them together in our upstairs hallway and read them a bedtime story. I’d sob hysterically at the end of “Where the Red Fern Grows.” Then I’d tuck each of them into their pastel-colored bedrooms. Now I read John Irving in my chair while they play XBox and watch Harry Potter and eat Doritos. And when I say goodnight to my oldest, it’s because I’m going to bed, not him.
My days used to be all about a physical marathon — changing diapers, folding onesies, wiping up spills, making snacks. Now they’re filled with the mental marathon — soothing hurt feelings, discussing girlfriends, planning for finals, contemplating the meaning of life.
As my kids got bigger, so did my job. I used to warn them about looking both ways before they crossed the street. Now I have to trust that when they cross the street — behind the wheel — I’ve prepared them well. I must have faith that they’ll remember to be kind to strangers, to treat others as they’d want to be treated themselves, to look out for the little guy. We’re not just feeding and nourishing physical bodies now, we’re growing humans.
Have we taught them enough kindness? Have we surrounded them with enough laughter? Have we given them enough faith in the power of their own wings?
Nudging these babies out of the nest is exhilarating, exhausting, terrifying, and ultimately, the most rewarding task we could ever undertake.
I used to worry about whether my kids would be smart, successful, upwardly mobile. You always want your offspring to do a little better than you did, right? But my main concern now? I want them to be kind, to be gentle, to be in contribution to this big, beautiful world.
I want them all to find friends who love and support them unconditionally, mates who respect and nurture and uplift them. And in return, I want them to freely give those gifts of faith and hope and kindness and humanity. I want them to find rewarding work — work that sparks their souls and makes a difference. If it’s inventing The Body Zipper or Meat Wallpaper, George, then by all means, invent away.
I want them to be happy. I want them to understand that true happiness comes from within them — that no one else can give it or take it away. I want them to get that happiness and fulfillment is a choice. That they, alone, are responsible for experiencing it, for bringing it, for sharing it.
Life, in its own way, will teach them that things aren’t always “fair.” Life will knock them on their asses from time to time, because that’s what life does. Life will chew them up and spit them out and steal their last donut. But if their souls are strong and their hearts are true, they’ll figure out how to get back up. They’ll wipe away their tears, straighten their shoulders, grab a bowl of Cheerios, and forge ahead.
These children of mine might not let me brush their hair anymore, but my intention is to keep molding their still-malleable hearts and souls for the greater good.
And if George still wants me to tuck him in at night, I won’t complain. Well, most of the time, I won’t complain. But if I’ve just reached a critical point in “Last Night at Twisted River,” he might have to wait. Life lessons.
Happy Birthday, Double-Digit Georgeous. No matter how old that strong, smart self gets, you’ll always be my baby.