Like many other parents, I read all the baby books, bought all the baby products and prepared as best I could for parenthood before my oldest child was born almost 11 years ago. As we struggled through sleepless nights, terrible 2's and horrible 3's, I looked forward to that sweet spot; the place where childhood would become easier for the entire family. I can’t completely say where it happened, when it happened or how it happened. But, it happened. Parenting became comfortable and even when things were not easy, they were at least familiar.
Recently, though, things began changing. Clouds started to fill my usually bright skies. Then came the rain. At first, it started with big fat single raindrops that would be scattered throughout my days and weeks; just a few little drops of rain, here and there. The rain drops were so few and far between that I could almost completely ignore them. Then came the occasional rain storms; brief but harder to ignore. Finally, the full-on hurricane rolled ashore. Clearly I had missed out on the warnings. I realized quickly that I probably should have planned more, prepared more or at least looked into umbrella options. But, it’s here now and I can’t ignore it anymore.
My baby is growing up and things don’t look that familiar anymore.
I watched my baby at bat a few weeks ago. The lights were bright and the crowd was cheering as he stepped up to the plate, the lead-off batter for his team in the bottom of the sixth inning in a semi-finals game. As he tapped his bat around home plate in his ritual motion, I realized that this would likely be the last time I would see the 10 year old version of him at bat. Gone was my shy 5 year old who would stand at the plate, too terrified to swing. Totally unprepared for such emotion, I quickly fought back the tears and swallowed away the lump that had formed in my throat. A few days later, we met some families at a local water park and my visions of us exploring the park together as a family were quickly dashed. He was delighted to spend the day with his friends, only joining us, his family, when we forced him to eat, hydrate and sunblock. Gone was the timid child who needed to hold my hand and needed reassurance about ride safety. And then, just a few days ago, I watched him take the football field with his new team, a team that only last year had seemed to be filled with almost-teenagers; kids so much bigger than him. Gone is his need for me to be present at each and every single practice. Gone is the little boy who feared making a tackle. Let’s not forget the ever increasing worries about things like boyfriends/girlfriends in his peer group, social media accounts to learn about and monitor and constant requests for a cell phone. The hurricane has arrived and it is time to figure out how to survive it.
After reflecting on my feelings over the past few weeks, I have come to realize that although the initial emotions hit me like a hurricane for which I did not prepare, I’m learning to see this point in time as something far different than a storm. Rather, most days it feels like we are standing on a very long bridge. On one side of the bridge is his childhood — filled with transformers, his raspy baby voice, his baby blankie, him needing to hold my hand and his belief that Disney characters are real. On the other side of the bridge is his adolescence and all the things that will come along with it; things that I can’t even fully comprehend yet.
Some days we are closer to the childhood side of the bridge, especially at night when he asks me to tuck him in, talk about our day and whisper some good things to look forward to the next day. On those days, I can barely see the other side of the bridge. All I see is the child version of him: sweet, innocent, small, safe. Other days, though, we are closer to the adolescent side of the bridge and the childhood side of the bridge is completely out of my line of sight. On those days, I see a young man when I look at him and I can envision the possibilities for his future: high school sports, driving, college prep.
No one ever told me about this bridge. At least, I don’t think I remember hearing about it in all my pre-parenting preparation. This place, this bridge, is completely foreign to me. Some parts of the bridge are beautiful and well-crafted with great big reinforced railings. Those parts feel safe and sort of exciting and I want to linger there a bit longer, soaking in the final pieces of his childhood. Other parts of the bridge, however, are worn-down and if you aren’t careful, you can fall off the edge. Those are the parts that scare me and keep me awake some nights; the parts that have me asking other parents for their advice. What will happen once we get to the other side? What will life be like then? What will our relationship with each other be like then?
This is usually the part where I offer up some tips, advice from researchers or insights of my own. If you’ve read this far hoping to find some, I have to apologize. I’ve got none to offer today. I have never been on this bridge before and clearly didn’t prepare for it. All I can do is name where we are because I know some of you are on similar bridges. It’s scary, exciting, terrifying and wonderful all at the same time. Completely bittersweet. While most times I want to take him firmly by the hand, turn around and head back to the childhood side of the bridge, the side I know really well, I also find myself sometimes looking with anticipation toward the adolescent side of the bridge.Maybe it’s not so bad?
While I do not know the best way to spend my time on the bridge, I do know that I want to try to learn as many lessons as I can from this bridge. I want to find a balance between giving my baby his independence and holding onto our precious family time. I want to continue to let him hold onto little pieces of his childhood, like that baby blankie that he still keeps on his bed, while providing him space to make his own mistakes and figure out who he will be. I’m sure I will tumble off the bridge at one point or another but I think I can climb back on and keep moving forward.
So, for now, I am going to enjoy our time on the bridge; our time between childhood and adolescence. And maybe, just maybe, we will see that this is another sweet spot in our family’s journey.