It was just a minute ago that Riley was a junior in high school and we started looking at colleges over her April vacation. (Or at least that’s how it feels in my head.) The reality is, she’s going to be a junior in college in the fall and we’re about to spend this year’s April break looking at schools with her little sister. (Who, by the way, is now driving a car, has a job and an ATM card, and is taller than everyone in our family except Dave.) And I’m honestly not sure how any of that is possible because Libby was just in the BabyBjörn wearing a snappy-crotch onesie not more than three minutes ago, so…
But that’s the thing about watching our kids grow up—especially our youngest ones—it happens in such a distorted and bizarre way because of how preoccupied we usually are with their older siblings. Certain spans of time feel endless, like super-long foreign films with annoying subtitles that leave you feeling like it’s been years since you saw natural light.
The toddler stage is like that, when our kids need our constant attention and supervision and time pretty much stops altogether for what seems like ever. That’s when it feels like we’re going to have dependent, naïve little grammar schoolers in the backseat of our car forever, trashing the floor with half-empty juice boxes and crushed potato chips and endless amounts of mud.
Because those are the years when our kids rely on us for just about everything. They need us for rides and clean clothes and the WiFi code and permission to walk downtown for lunch on half days. Everything. And when we’re in the thick of it, we just naturally assume that it’s going to go on forever. And then it doesn’t.
See, the way it goes down is that, without any real warning, we wake up one morning and our kids are meeting with their high school guidance counselor about their senior year course requirements. And everyone’s taking the SATs. And they’re all driving. And dating. And doing all kinds of other grown-up-type stuff that we never expected them to do.
Those are the times when we struggle just to keep up with the daily pace because life with older kids moves so damn fast. It’s like as soon as our kids hit high school, everything just accelerates to the point where they’re moving in eighty different directions, doing eighty different things, every day of the week. And they’re dependent on us less and less, which is a freaky feeling, even though we’ve gone through it already with our older kid(s).
I don’t know, maybe it all feels so weird because it means that my baby is growing up. (Make that grown up.) And I’m not entirely sure I ever saw that happening because she was always little. Cause when we have that second or third or fourth or whatever number child we have, it just seems like we’re always going to have somebody young at home to raise. But then they grow up too.
And then, ironically, they’re not the ones who are lost anymore…we are. Which is a really odd feeling when we’re left alone with that rattling around inside our heads.
Now logically, I’m aware that all of this is supposed to happen. I mean, I feel like I’m solid with the basics of growth and development as it applies to human beings. But when we’re in the thick of it with our kids, and then, all of a sudden, our little one isn’t little anymore, we can’t help but get a little wrapped around the axle about when that actually happened. Because it kinds seems like it’s an overnight thing.
Which I guess is kind of how I’ve been feeling lately, watching Libby whiz through her junior year and head, full bore, into the summer before she’s a senior. Because this is exactly when things get out-of-control fast and you just keep hearing yourself say, How did we get here already? Weren’t we just at kindergarten screening? You were just using a booster seat, for G-d’s sake.
This is right about when the normal stress level that we’ve been used to these last few years—with school and sports and jobs and friends—redlines directly to madness. This is when we realize that all the emotions we’re feeling aren’t just about our youngest moving on to their next stage of life…it’s also about us moving on to ours.
So how do we handle it?
Well, to me, it means that two things are happening simultaneously and we have to address them both. Simultaneously. Number one, it means that the little baby who we were absolutely sure would stay little forever, has suddenly grown up, in spite of our best efforts to keep them little. Which we just need to accept. And number two, it means that we’d better get accustomed to the fact that we’re about to be on our own again, so we’re gonna need a hobby. Or twelve.
But whatever we’re feeling, we just have to take solace in the fact that billions of parents before us have done this (including our own) and they managed just fine. In fact, I’ll bet it didn’t take them all long to remember that a good set of room-darkening shades are all anyone needs to help us remember what it was like to be able to sleep until noon, before we ever had kids.
Oh, who are we kidding…we’re all screwed.
Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at lisasugarman.com. Or, find them on LittleThings.com, BeingAMom.life, GrownandFlown.com, Mamalode, More Content Now, and Care.com. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is and Untying Parent Anxiety: 18 Myths That Have You in Knots—And How to Get Free available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at select bookstores.