Last year he stood with two feet on the ground, eyes gazing up, equal parts envy and wonder, at the bigger kids climbing high into this tree like giant squirrels.
“I want to do that.” He whined. He wanted me to pick him up. That was a clear no for me. For one, I was giant pregnant and I said no to a lot of physical demands on my back. But also we have a standing rule that if you can't climb up on your own, you aren’t ready.
“Next year maybe you'll be big enough for that.”
“Next year” to a 3 year old is further than the moon. It’s further than Christmas or their next birthday. It might as well just be a no.
And yet here we are, a trip around the sun later and I hear a shout “hey mom” from behind my shoulder as we play at the same familiar playground.
Well look who is up in that tree.
This is where I should say “Darn these kids they grow up so fast.” But that’s not what I was thinking as I looked up in that tree.
I was thinking how little he looked.
Here I was watching him do something that only “big kids get to do” and yet in that towering tree, with his tiny hands gripped around the branches, his sweet face set and determined to watch his balance, he looked so little to me.
A four year old is in fact very little.
But how quickly we forget that.
Especially when a younger needy little one comes along, it is so easy to will these medium sized children into being bigger than they are.
We advertise “big kid” roles for them like a blog influencer. Wow, look how cool this big kid thing is! Don’t you want to be big? Look at all the things you can do when you are big!
We then expect them to behave a certain way, to pick up on the lessons we seem to be drilling into their little minds on repeat.
He had another accident. She always spills her milk. He is STILL not crawling.
Grow. Grow. Grow. Get big. Move on. What’s next.
This year in my practice of the word Begin, I told myself I wanted to sit with the notion of being a beginner. I wanted to be ok with not having “made it” yet, but still trying.
I believe I need to extend this gratitude to my little ones too.
She turned to us last night with a big grin on her face like she had some really important news.
“Mom. Dad. I have something to tell you.”
I stopped listening. Suddenly in a time warp kind of thing I traveled 20 years from now and she was home visiting about to tell us she was engaged. Or moving to South America. Or publishing a book.
”We are learning how to do division.”
Oh thank God. I’m back in the room again. In the now. And I’m so relieved.
For in a brief moment she had traveled away from me. I literally blinked and she was 26 and doing adult things. And I had missed all the little joys of her young life.
Yes, division is a very big kid thing to do. But still she is little.
They all are.
I’m not telling myself to stop and enjoy every moment with them because “they grow up so fast.” And I’m not going to feel bad about looking with envy and wonder, much like my four year old at the big kids in the tree, at the mom who seems to have so much more sleep and doesn’t have to wipe as many bottoms because her kids are grown and independent. I’ll be there before I know it, maybe even before I’m ready for it.
But I am going to try to remember that they are little. Everything is still so new to them. They deserve the grace and the time to be little. Grow at their own pace. Try again and again and again.
With tippy tip toes slowly gliding down the branches one by one, he made his way back to the ground where I sat.
“I’m so proud of you! You couldn’t do that last year and now look at you.”
He was beaming. Under that smile I saw his blue eyes, the ones I use to gaze at while we rocked to sleep at night when he was as little as the brother sitting at my feet. With his flushed red checks and moppy sweaty hair I saw the little boy learning to walk in our front yard those hot summer days, plopping on his bottom again and again and again. And when his hand reached out with an orange from my bag and asked me to peel it, those little puffy fingers stood as a gentle reminder that he still needs my help.
Their bodies get bigger. They do big things like climbing trees and division problems.
But it’s in their faces where we see them still so little with so much more growing big ahead of them.
Ok then I thought, pulling him into my lap, where he still fit. You can be little just a bit longer.