The hugeness of a little boy.

It’s another field trip! This time not to the fun and lovely Chicago neighborhood of Pilsen, but rather to the no-doubt noisy and crowded bowling alley/mini-golf joint — a treat for the boy’s class of out-going fifth graders.

Out-going fifth graders!

Next week is the last week of elementary school for the boy, now ten and 1/2 years old, and I am tearing up typing it — so I thought this would be a good day to post something I wrote when he was 6 1/2 and I realized that he was chronologically as close to being born as he was to becoming Bar Mitzvah. I cannot fathom just how quickly the years have zoomed by. The child used to sleep on mah belleh, his wee arms draped on either side of me as if in a hug — and now when we hug, I can rest my chin on his head.

So, without further ado (and to get out the door to said field trip), I give you: Almost Thirteen. I ran a slightly altered version of it in DallasChild a couple of years later, but this was the one I really loved, because I wrote it right when he was at that tipping point.

Almost 13

Following are my son’s goals for the next year, as recorded in his first grade class:

  1. get Star Wars movies
  2. see Germany
  3. make a portal to the Pokemon world

How does one argue with such a list? One’s aspirations should always range from the effortless to the ambitious – and frankly, who wouldn’t want to visit both Europe (where his beloved ex-babysitter currently lives) and the world of Japanese anime? I have less than no understanding of the whole Pokemon thing, but, hey, I’d be on the first flight out. I’d say it’s a very sensible list, in that light.

My son currently stands at the exact half-way mark between birth and adolescence. Six and a half years have passed since he emerged from my body; in another six and a half,  he’ll stand before our synagogue and be declared a man. This rather commonplace fact burst into my consciousness the other day, and I all but broke down.

I was, in a word, stunned. Stopped in my tracks. Gobsmacked.

I’ve been sort of coasting along, assuming I have, if not all the time in the world, then a fairly big chunk of it, before he – of biological necessity – snaps the umbilical cord irrevocably. Or, put another way: Stops talking to me. Because of course, that is my fear.

Seen from this end, the beginning of his life has passed by with unseemly speed. I can remember many wonderful things he said and did, but I can’t remember the weight of his newborn body in my arms. I can still see the baby when he’s asleep, but the word-stumbling toddler is gone for good. In some pictures, he looks like he’s going to college tomorrow.

To realize, then, that 13 is likely to arrive at the same breakneck pace as first grade is more than a little appalling. Sure, there are days that are hours too long, but mostly, they’re far, far too short. He is so funny, so smart, so sweet, and my arms want so much to always be around him. There really is never enough time. My unspoken goal – to keep him small just a little bit longer – is more unlikely than anything on his list.

How did I come to be coasting? How did I come to take my little boy – or, rather, his very littleness – for granted? It’s true that six year olds have never really interested me. As a veteran of many years of babysitting and nannying, I’ve always said (hopefully not in my son’s presence) that the best age is two through five. “After that,” I’ve been wont to say, “boarding school! Until they’re teenagers and can hold a decent conversation!”

Now I know that’s idiotic. Some of my most valuable chatting is done with my son, a person so new that he still shares very little of my cultural context, and often sees things in a light I would never consider. True, sometimes his perspective flies in the face of the laws of physics, but that doesn’t make it boring!

But I think the idea that there is this vast stretch of unremarkable time that comes over children once they’re out of kindergarten struck roots. That, somehow, six year olds and ten year olds are really, by and large, the same. Whatever I miss today, I’ll get next year.

Oh my. Counting the ways in which that’s just wrong makes me dizzy. I can barely keep track of the changes from week to week. Year to year? There’s no tracking it, is there.

I’m sorry to say that this breaks my heart. Of course I want him to grow and be strong and come into his own; I am, in a very real way, looking forward to meeting the 13 year old – and the 17 year old, the 22 year old. He’s going to be fantastic. And I don’t honestly think he’s going to cut me off entirely. At least not for long.

But I so love this little boy who is here now, as I so loved the myriad little boys nestled inside him, like Russian dolls. I want them all, always.

There is nothing, though, nothing I can say or do about it. There is no deeper meaning, no way to make it less bittersweet. It’s just life.

All I can do is make those clichéd promises that we make to ourselves – to try to be more here, now. To try to focus more on what matters, and less on the fact that he sucks his shirt sleeves (…). To enjoy, en-joy, as much of our life together as I can. He deserves to know how much joy he gives me – and I need to try to return it, every day. Even those days when I’ve sent him to his room, because he really, but really deserved it.

And don’t even get me started on his two and a half year old sister.

Emily L. Hauser is a freelance writer living outside of Chicago.

3 Comments

  1. Susan

     /  May 28, 2010

    Danger danger. Not everyone waits until 13 for puberty. My adored eldest went into puberty at 11, yes that’s ELEVEN, whereupon ensued seven long years before we could move him out to college.

    He was the sweetest little boy you can imagine, smart and affectionate. I loved him to pieces. I still do. This is my first-born son I’m talking about. One of my friends once said, “I’ve never seen anyone light up the way you light up when that guy walks into the room.” Certainly. He’s 42 now, and I feel exactly the same way. He came out OK and more than OK. He’s got a great job (he’s a senior engineer for Microsoft), he’s making more money than God, he has a beautiful family. He loves me to pieces too.

    All that said, those were seven horrible years, on balance. He never cut me off emotionally, even when I wished he would. He was a monster. The only time I got any relief was when the whole thing looked funny (from a demented sort of perspective, which is the only way it ever looked funny). None of the other three gave me anything like that hard a time, by the way, so you never know.

    Good luck, all you moms out there, it’s worth it even when it looks like it isn’t.

  2. Gosh,

    They grow up so fast and they learn so quickly both from what is said and presented and what isn’t said and presented. There’s a Jesuit Proverb that said “show me the boy at 7 and I will show you the man.” I don’t know if its true but some major characteristics are certainly set by then. The major question is how will they play out in a person’s life over time.

    I don’t know much about parenting, but I hope and pray that your little guy will grow up to be kind, compassionate, and understanding. These things are the ones that get taught at home and nowhere else.

    Best to you Emily. My mom told me once that the hardest part of being a mom was holding on with one hand while letting go with the other. I’m sure he’ll be a wonderfull man, by the looks of things he’s had a great teacher. 🙂

  3. My oldest will be 3 next week. It’s so simultaneously horrific and awesome… he’s becoming such a little person but at the same time I miss the somewhat-more-blank-slate of his infancy. I can’t imagine 6. Yeesh.