I was prepared for the usual parenting “firsts.” First steps, first birthday, first wiggly tooth, first day of kindergarten … events I knew would both thrill and sting, just a bit. That’s the nature of having children: you can’t wait for them to grow up, but you also want them to stay little forever. It’s what makes everything bittersweet. And those big milestones reinforce just how fast it all goes.
But I wasn’t prepared for the other firsts: the smaller, everyday milestones that aren’t listed anywhere in the baby books. Somehow, those have hurt a little more; probably because they caught me so unaware.
Here are a few I’ve been ruminating about recently.
1. The first time they won’t let you kiss them in public.
This happened just last week. My son is about to turn 8, and he is suddenly cool. He cares about his clothes, his hair, his backpack, his socks … he cares about his friends’ opinions.
We were at dinner with three other families when he said something funny and I laughed and leaned down to kiss his cheek. He pulled away, and gave me that look. (I’m guessing you know the one I’m talking about.) Later that night he told me, “Mommy, how would you feel if your mom tried to kiss you in front of all your friends? Wouldn’t you be sort of … embarrassed?” I nodded solemnly and said I understood, but in truth my heart broke just a little.
2. The first time they take a shower by themselves.
This is, by and large, an awesome milestone — it’s so great when they can wash their own bodies and don’t need you to monitor the bath or shower for fear of imminent drowning. That being said, gone are the days of seeing my sweet chubby baby in the bathtub, kicking around his toys, letting me shampoo his hair, and pouring water over his little round head.
3. The first time they go to sleep without needing that extra hug or extra glass of water.
The bedtime routine used to take over an hour, if I’m being honest. When it comes to putting a toddler to bed, the struggle is real. But these days, the bedtime routine takes about 20 minutes, and it’s a lovely 20 minutes. He brushes and flosses his teeth on his own, climbs into bed, and we spend about 15 minutes reading a chapter of a book together. (Currently it’s Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, which I can’t recommend highly enough.) Then I give him a hug and a kiss and turn out the light. That’s it, easy as anything. And yet most nights, I can’t stop picturing him as the tyrant toddler he once was, who couldn’t fall asleep unless I sat on the side of his bed and held his hand.
4. The first day of “big-kid” school.
At my son’s elementary school, kindergarteners and first-graders must be walked to their classroom door. But second graders can be dropped off at the school gates and allowed to make their own way to their classrooms. Of course, I fully intended to continue walking him to class … but on the very first morning of second grade, he caught sight of two of his friends standing just inside the gates. He gave me a hug, said, “I’ll see you at pick-up time, Mom!” before dashing off in his friends’ direction without a single backward glance.
5. The first night they sleep over a friend’s house.
A few months ago, my son’s best friend invited him for a sleepover. Let me preface this by saying I adore his best friend and his parents, and trust them probably more than I trust myself. But I sent him off to the sleepover with some trepidation, expecting the middle-of-the-night phone call that he was sad or scared and wanted to come home. I awoke with a start at 3 AM and checked my iPhone, propped up on my bedside table, to see if I’d missed any calls. Nope. No calls ever came, not until 10 AM the next morning, when his friend’s mom let me know that they were tired and happy and still having a blast.
I love that my son is smart and funny and (somewhat) responsible these days. I often think to myself, “This age — almost eight years old — this is the best age.” And then he pours himself a glass of water, or does his homework without being asked, or ties his own shoes … and my eyes tear up inexplicably and I have to look away and collect myself for a brief moment.
These other firsts — they get me every time.