On her third birthday, Sophia was already planning her fourth. “We’re going to have a pajama ball…and then for my fifth birthday….”
“Hold up a second.” I interrupted, “that’s a long ways away. By the time you are five, what you like is going to be very different from what you like now. Why don’t we wait a year before we start making plans? Hmmmm?”
Why not let her dream? The fact of the matter was I couldn’t bear the thought of her fourth birthday. Or her fifth. Of course, she is just enamored with the newly grasped concept of a day when all her friends come over to celebrate her. But I see those years flying by with breakneck speed. I feel us stepping into the future and climbing over the brilliant today.
You know how when you go on a vacation, the first day feels full of possibility? You’re excited about all the things you might do (or, if you’re my husband, don’t have to do). Then, by the middle of the week you’re already dreading the end. In fact, you begin to emerge from your relaxed state, prematurely, with the anticipation of what awaits you when you return. And then, suddenly, your vacation is over, and you’re pissed off at yourself for not enjoying it more. Okay, maybe that’s only me, but you get where I’m coming from. .
That’s how I think of these early years. Three marks the official beginning of “my favorite stage.” Through teaching, I have discovered that I love the years between three to seven, when every day is filled with the thrill of discovery and children are not yet ground down by the monotony of school, the pressure of friends, and the ugliness that exists in the world. Still innocent, still wide-eyed, still full of unbridled emotion, mostly joy. The years when they crack the code of the written word and they realize that anything they want to know or experience is open to them through the pages of a book. The years when they tell you what they think as it occurs to them, without censorship—good and bad. The years when, without an ounce of self consciousness they throw their arms around you and tell you how much they love you. It is a magical time.
That is how I found myself, on the eve of Sophia’s first day as a three-year-old, lamenting it’s advent to Kevin. In my mind, the hourglass was already half-empty. “Three years,” I sighed. Kevin nodded. Neither of us could believe she was already three. Kevin had recently viewed a few the videos we have made since Sophia was born. “You’ve got to see that footage,” Kevin told me. “It’s remarkable how much she’s changed.” “So I can cry my lungs out?” I replied. “No thank you.” I do want to see it, but it will evoke an exquisite sort of pain I am sure only the Germans have a word for. It’s all going to blow by so quickly,” I said for the nine-millionth time. Kevin assented. “It will. But it’s all wonderful.” I wish I could feel that way…that every stage, every age has it’s own gifts. But I dread the tween years, the teen years, the separation and individuation every child must undergo to become an independent self. I watch young girls who still hold their mother’s hand with hope and longing. And when she throws a fit, raging against me, I fear this is a glimpse into the future, of the opposition and resistance to come.
The myth of negative parent-teen relationships looms large.
“Don’t worry.” I’m told. “Not every child is like that.” And the evidence is all around me, in my neighbors’ sweet kids, my impressive young cousins, and the responsible, caring, passionate teens I’ve encountered in my work and moving about in the world. Even, I, despite the arguments we had and the clandestine ways in which I rebelled, cherished the closeness I felt with my parents.
But, truth be told, if I could, I would hold us here in this known and splendid today.