I thought my son’s babyhood had long since ended because it’s been 5 years and Griffin is huge, at least compared to the baby I brought home. But this summer — a lazy one, where he’s mostly home and I get to hug him in the middle of the day, every day — the thought popped into my head: the start of kindergarten is the end of babyhood.
The end, maybe, of a certain softness or gentleness that he has sometimes that reminds me of the baby he was. Will school take that from me? The stamina he’ll need to get through six hours in a room with 30 other 5 year olds and a grown-up authority who is not me or his dad — that’ll change him, right? How could it not?
I’m not in mourning. I’m excited for school (I loved school) and for the community it promises, especially for my son, who spent half his life in a pandemic. As for him, he’s bored at home, curious about real school. He lives for time with friends, and I’m tired of all the texting that making play dates — half of which fall through — requires.
It’s not mourning. Unfortunately, instead, it’s that most terrible of parenting feelings: nostalgia for a time I’m currently living in. What can I do but linger a little too late at bedtime, squeeze him extra tight while he’s still within arm’s reach? Squeeze this moment, as it rushes by.
I could write forever about the way time feels as a parent: An accordion, Silly Putty, a thousand-layer cake; simultaneous, breathing.
I’m finally feeling the “shortest” part of these longest shortest years, here at the end of them. Typical. I see the word “toddler 4-5” on his socks and it’s a sucker punch to the gut. I surprise myself by wishing it were true, but I know that any glimpses of “toddler” left in this kid are vestigial.
I could write forever about the way time feels as a parent: An accordion, Silly Putty, a thousand-layer cake; simultaneous, breathing. A circle, a vanishing line.
Like how some piece of me that’s real and alive will always be right there, on the operating table, holding Griffin for the very first time in all his purple screaming glory, and it’s a sensation so present for me that the chronological fact that it was five years ago is meaningless.
In the same way, I imagine some part of me will stay here forever in this lazy, golden summer before kindergarten. I’ll always be standing by his bed, singing a bedtime song with a soft breeze and a dusky light in the sky. He’ll be saying “mama when will it be morning?” & I’ll be resting my head on his, whispering “when you wake up” as I rub his back.
There is a vivid awareness to this moment— where finitude seems a little less deniable than usual — that assures me it’ll always be now. This time with him will pass, and stay with me, close and alive. At least I hope it will.
On a Tuesday at 1 p.m.: “Mama, can you play with me?”
How long will he ask that? hangs in the air as I say yes so eagerly — in the way that maybe only a parent who’s a little too hungry for time with their child can. How long will he call me mama? What do elementary school kids call their moms? I know there will be a last time. I know I won’t know until it’s already gone, and all that’s left for me to do is miss it.
What can we do but feel it? So, I do. I feel it slip through my fingers — every dripping molecule as it passes. I hug him as much as he lets me. I stare at his sweaty little profile with flushed August cheeks and a perfect nose as he pops cheese puffs and watches Mrs. Frizzle. I let myself remember the first time I saw that nose on the ultrasound as I love him for who he is right now, and who he will become. I rest my cheek on his messy blond mop a little bit longer than normal when I tuck him in, knowing that there is nowhere else in space or time that I want to be than here, close to him, as long as he lets me.
I felt that I was giving him something he needed simply by existing.
I cup my hands around his, which are getting so big and are still so little. I run my fingers through his sticky, soft fingers, feeling the way my body knows every size his hands have ever been, and every way they’ve wrapped around mine in these five years he’s been on earth.
At bedtime the other night, I went into Griffin’s room and climbed into his lofted bed. I lay there, listening to my husband read a bedtime story. I closed my eyes, and Griffin pressed his feet against mine. Drunk with sleepiness and gangly in his pajamas, he climbed over and snuggled up, tucking himself into me. We could feel each other breathe. I know the particular rest of laying your whole self on your mother’s body, and I felt that I was giving him something he needed simply by existing.
I know this 5 year old newborn person I love so much — soon to be shared, but not quite — is mine always, and was also never mine, really. Here, on the verge of so much growth and change, his nearness feels like the best luck in the universe, more than it ever has before. And this sharpening of appreciation is a gift all its own that asks nothing of me but to feel it, to love it and let it grow.