My oldest son will be 12 in a few months. People are always talking about how kids grow up so fast, but I have to tell you, I have felt every passing moment of every one of those 12 years–and some of them–especially during the early years–seemed to last a lifetime.
That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the first few years of parenting. I did. Enormously. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so complete in my life. But, dammit, they were hard. So hard that I often wished that time could speed up a little, get me to the next place, the easier place where I could get more than 2 consecutive hours of sleep, and pee without an audience, and drink a cup of coffee in one sitting.
Now, here I am, at the easier place, but while I really do cherish my sleep and independent bathroom time and steaming cups of coffee, I’ve found myself missing things about my son’s first years that I never thought I would.
Here are the top 10 things I miss about my son’s toddler years:
1. The way he smelled. I’m not talking about the sweet baby powder and honey dew melon smell on the top of his head. I’m talking about the nasty-stinky-poopy-diaper and pee-pee-pants smells. As distasteful as those odors can be, they were in my control. I was the one to change his diaper, and give him a bath.
Now they are dark and musky, pungent, and adolescent. I remind him to take showers, put on deodorant…But ultimately, it’s his problem, his body. It’s no longer under my control.
2. How he never EVER shut up. From the moment that he discovered that sounds could make words that could bring him nice things, he became something like an auctioneer spitting out words. Sometimes, I’d lock myself in the bathroom and turn the shower on full blast for a few minutes of peace.
Things are different these days. Now, he’s the one looking for quiet places. What I wouldn’t give for a day of his scratchy little toddler voice following me around again.
3. How he used to get his little brother all riled up. It never failed. After an extra long nursing session, my younger son would FINALLY begin to close his eyes and drift off to sleep, when my oldest son would come bursting into the room. The two of them would look at each other, and break into devilish giggles.
These days my boys operate on two different planes. While my oldest is carefully crossing the threshold into adolescence, my younger is firmly mired in little boyhood. Finding common ground between them is increasingly difficult, and inevitably heartbreaking.
4. How he would wear bow ties and capes to school. Mostly I found it endearing–the quirky way he’d dress without regard for social norms. But on preschool picture day or bar mitzvahs, I’d wish he’d just put on a nice shirt and pair of pants. These days, his wardrobe is carefully culled to fit in. I miss the way his outfits used to reflect his fierce individualism.
5. How he made enormous messes. When he was little, he’d tromp in the house, his boots leaving chunks of mud on the carpet, his hands leaving smudges of paint on the walls, his hair dropping dried leaves all over the couches.
He isn’t so messy anymore. As much as those messes annoyed me, they were a sign that he was active and interacting with nature. It’s not that he doesn’t do things anymore, it’s just that they’re neater, more organized. Basketball or computer games. Listening to music..Now I miss the wild fun that led to the messes.
6. How he used to have to be on top of me ALL the time. I couldn’t eat or read or even sleep without his bony little elbows in my chest. Every night, he would fall asleep with both hands on my cheeks.
These days, I have to sneak in physical contact with him: a quick pat on the shoulder when he comes home from school, a reluctant hug before bedtime.
7. How he used to get up at 4 A M. Every. Single. Day. I’ll be honest…I don’t miss this one TOO much. But, there was something nice about having those few hours together before the sun came up and the business of the day began. He still gets up early, but he doesn’t need me to keep him company anymore. And for that I’m thankful. But a little sad too.
8. How he used to insist on listening to Laurie Berkner’s “I Know a Chicken” on repeat every time we got in the car. It wasn’t just that song. My car stereo was dominated by Muppet Music, Sesame Songs, and Oy Baby. They were, for the most part, fun and catchy. But, they weren’t MY music. How I longed for the days of belting out pop ballads or basking in the sulky sounds of my indie music.
Now, I’m mostly free to listen to what I want.. Every now and then, I let him choose the music. The cheerful kid tunes have been replaced by the screaming howls of AC/DC and the angsty lyrics of Green Day. Sometimes, when “Crazy Train” comes on, I find myself humming the tune of Bob the Builder.
9. How he wanted me attention ALL the time. There was no end to his “Look What I Could Do’s.” Card tricks, dance moves, complicated figurine dramas. No matter what other important thing I happened to be doing at the moment. It drove me crazy at the time. But, what drives me crazier is how rarely he asks me to observe his accomplishments any more…how little he seems to need my approval.
10. How he cried over everything. A broken toy, a dropped catch, a late lunch…All these things were reasons for a full on sob fest. So much of my time with him was spent comforting him when life just didn’t go his way.
Life doesn’t go his way all the time these days, either. The difference is that he’s learned how tears don’t necessarily make the problems go away. I see him sometimes, struggling with disappointment or hurt feelings, and I wish he would just the tears flow, and allow himself to melt into my arms like he used to do.
But he’s older now. Wiser. He’s learned that, no matter how much I love him, how much I’ll always be there for him, I can ‘t possibly solve all of his problems. And that, perhaps, is what I miss most about his toddler years