I spend so many weekends in the summer sitting by my living room window, listening to conversations between the neighborhood boys, my son included. Most of them are bigger and older (in some cases up to six years older) than my son, who is the youngest in the pack. He’s 5 years old. He’ll start Kindergarten in a few short weeks and the neighborhood boys are all at least in the second grade. That’s a pretty big jump.
I can’t imagine being 7, 8, 11 years old and willingly playing with a kid who isn’t even in Kindergarten, and yet I have tiny knocks at my front door from morning to sunset.
“Can Noah come out and play?”
They’re all riding around on two-wheeler bikes (my son hasn’t mastered that skill yet), without any adult supervision (my son isn’t allowed that freedom yet), and they’re, like, big kids.
I have my eye on one or two, but most of the boys are surprisingly gentle and genuine in their friendship. There’s no eye-rolling behind his back. No sarcasm. No put-downs or exclusions. It would be very easy for them to avoid our house all together, and yet they’ve completely absorbed him into the Boy Club. They treat him as an equal — as if his speech doesn’t have a slight baby accent, as if he isn’t looking up to talk to them.
But how long can this possibly last?
From that window, I watch how my son handles himself — the jokes he makes, the ease and confidence that I never had at his age (or ever, really). He has a commanding presence, a charisma. I see no insecurities about his age or height or athletic ability. He pipes up over the chaotic mash-up of ideas — pipes right up with his, “Hey guys, listen, this is how it is” tone and they listen. They listen! They validate him and show up the next day with a light knock and pleading request to play, again.
But still … I can’t help but watch and silently plead, “Please don’t crush my baby’s spirit.”
It’s like he has this glowing light of innocence burning inside of him, and I just want to cup my hands around it as if I were shielding birthday candles from the wind. How long until someone purposefully hurts his feelings? Points out his flaws? Physically hurts him? How long until someone says something or does something that dims his light, makes him question himself, makes him dislike himself?
You might say that allowing him to play with older kids leaves him vulnerable, but life makes him vulnerable at this point. He’s going off to Kindergarten soon, he’s joining the local soccer team, he’s right on the edge of this new stage of childhood — both feet ready and positioned to jump right in.
But he doesn’t know what lies in the waters ahead. I don’t know either, to be fair, but I have a pretty good idea of the obstacles and jerky kids and embarrassing moments he’ll eventually face. Because we all face them at some point or another. We’ve all had a mean person tear us down. We’ve all had butterflies/anxiety about a public speaking class assignment. We’ve all had fights with our friends, faced the consequences of bad choices, felt frustrated with life.
Back when I was pregnant, I didn’t think about this stage of parenting. I didn’t think about how traumatic and difficult childhood and adolescence can be, and how I’d eventually have to revisit the angst and growing pains once again — this time through a window. I can’t control anything or stop anything (not without hindering his development). All I can do is watch through that window, holding my breath, desperately hoping that his bright, glowing, beautiful spirit stays intact.
All I can do is watch his life unfold and guide him through the rough spots — still feeling the bumps and hits along the way.
We, as parents, have nothing to gain from the suffering and mistakes — not like our kids do. We’ve already learned the lessons. All we can do is watch our kids learn for themselves, with deep breaths and silent wishes.
Please don’t crush his spirit, Life. Please.
Growing up is hard, for sure. But watching someone grow up might be harder.