I sometimes hear parents with three or four-year-old kids bemoaning the fast passage of time. I wish I could hold my baby in my arms a little while longer! Or, I’m not ready for them to go off to school just yet!
Most days, I can’t say that I can relate. All that cooing and drooling and crying that babies inflict upon the world? Keep it. I feel the same way about toddlers as I do about electronic dance music: I love ’em — in small, half-hour-sized doses. My favorite kids are those who talk and hold opinions and wipe their own bottoms, who enjoy discussing superhero movies and books, and happily play alone or with their peers. So I’ve had no desire to slow down the clock’s movement and arrest Felix’s development. Please. Let the boy grow up!
Today, though? Something’s different. This morning my wife and I toured a public school — our first of several, as we consider where to send Felix for kindergarten. Kindergarten!? I can’t believe it. How did we get here?
On the tour, I watched these five year olds, some who seemed twice the size that Felix is now, tramping around the classroom, arms on one another’s shoulders in a giggling, off-kilter human train. A couple of months ago I wouldn’t have been able to imagine my son — shy, defiant, impetuous little imp — participating in such an activity. Today I had no trouble, because just yesterday I witnessed him do the same in his pre-K class, where he was as cooperative, smiling, and functioning a train car as the next kid.
Later, debriefing about the tour over hot beverages, I expressed concern as to whether or not Felix would be ready to follow directions in an academically oriented classroom environment. I mean, a play-based curriculum was one thing, but learning how to read and write, taking tests to establish what learning group he belongs in, and getting assigned homework? I show him letters and try to break words into syllables and the kid bites my head off: he doesn’t like taking instruction. Besides, he’s just a kid. Can’t he be left to play his days away a little while longer?
Oh, but my wife reminded me, we wondered and worried about whether or not he would be able to handle a classroom at all, and at look how good he’s been doing in pre-K so far, and how proud of himself he is, and the crazy developmental leaps he’s made since school started.
It’s true. The past five weeks have been big ones for him. We’ve seen some regressive behavior, for sure. He demands that his mom help him eat dinner and brush his teeth, for example, and fights ensue when she tells him he can do it himself. On the whole, though, he’s becoming a little boy in the true sense of the words. He’s an equal partner when we shop for groceries, or clean his fish tank, or, if all is going well, in the morning exit routine.
Just an hour or so ago, I saw with clarity how far he’s come, when I introduced him to a new babysitter. I heard Felix cry as I answered the door, and found him hiding beneath the kitchen table. He came out after a minute, though, and asked for a big hug.
“When the doorbell rang I cried a little bit,” he said.
“Yeah, I heard. You ok now?”
“Yeah, I’m ok. I’m going to miss you. But I’m ok.”
Upon putting him down, he helped me show the sitter around the house, pointing out the new furniture (which he’s happy to have helped build) and telling her about what he likes to do. “I’ll know when I see her if she’s going to be nice or mean,” he had told me before she came. Guess he decided she was nice, and so all was set.
It’s a great relief to see this little person who moved so slowly in his social development and demanded so much attention — and still demands so much attention! — interacting with people, making friends, having an existence away from my wife and me. So then why am I sitting here feeling so melancholy?
I don’t want to rewind the clock, but I do have a very profound sense of time’s passage, seeing it, as I am, in greater relief than ever before. That’s as sad as it is beautiful. Knowing that things are changing, like the leaves on the trees that line my block. By the time spring comes, I’ll have a completely different boy, and be, in some ways, a completely different father and man. If only we could pause things for a moment, or unspool them at half the speed.
Ah, but, as the poet Emily Dickenson wrote:
In this short life that only lasts an hour
How much — how little — is within our power