I took this photo the other day of my youngest son Charlie, age 3. In it, he’s wearing his older brother’s fake leather jacket, or his “rock-n-woll jacket,” as he calls it.
This photo blows my mind: my toddler, scowling like some English punk on the 1977 streets of London.
He looks so much older than he really is, like he’s lived so much more life than he actually has.
It makes me think about stuff. Mainly, how I often fall into these grooves where I honestly forget that my kids (ages 8, 6, and 3) are really so young, not the 20-somethings I often find myself speaking to — not these super intellectuals who I sometimes try and sway to my political or philosophical of things. Besides, they much prefer fish sticks and ketchup over all the ridiculous green curries and Mediterranean salads I’ve repeatedly tried to force down their unrefined hatches the past few years.
Sometimes I wonder if being a single parent has anything to do with it. Not having their mom on the scene when I’m talking with them probably allows me to digress off into tangents. Maybe someone else to reel me in now and then would be a good thing. Still, I’m not so sure. I get this feeling that any parent who spends a ton of time with their children ends up slipping into the same situation as I do.
I’ve pondered this a lot, and to be quite honest, I think it has a lot to do with one simple fact: we are impressed as hell by our sons and daughters. And why shouldn’t we be? Since the day they were born we have watched their insights and perceptions expand to mind-blowing proportions! Other people may not notice that our kids are razor-sharp witnesses to the world around them. Our friends and even our family members might not fully understand how insanely beautiful my 6-year-old Henry’s tenderhearted tall tales are. Or just how magical my 8-year-old Violet’s thoughts manage to sound when she blurts them out in line for the drive-thru at McDonald’s.
Like I said, Charlie is 3 now. And so why doesn’t anyone else but his mom and I see how such a little man’s beaming grin can reveal the nooks and crannies of his shining kind soul?
Because they can’t.
It isn’t rocket science, but we tend to forget it. Parents are equipped with ultra-senses when it comes to our own. We have the innate ability to recognize brilliance and kindness and sensitivity and even slightly troubled hearts in our kids in ways that defy explanation. It’s like a superpower. Hell, it is a superpower if you really think about it.
That’s one of the most magnificent angles of this whole parenting trip, if you ask me. We sometimes end up talking to our toddlers about serious stuff because we feel a connection to them rooted in a billion years of family. Standing around the dinner table while my gang scarfs down chicken tenders, I wax poetic about the brilliance of Frank Sinatra, or the demented horrors of drugs, or the way certain birds mate for life and never waver from that … and I lose myself in love.
I talk so much crap above their heads because I lose myself in my own heart for them. And it’s a good thing. How can it not be?
I take a photo every now and then. In one of maybe 10 or 15 of them taken at the park on a regular weekday afternoon, it hits me out of the blue, like a freight train slamming through the living room window: Charlie looks so much older in this photo. Violet looks like a high schooler here. Oh my god, look at Henry! He’s 25 in this shot! I see it! I see him! I see him at 25 and we’re so far from that.
But then again, no, we aren’t. We’re racing ahead at the speed of light, aren’t we?
These years are flying by; I need to remind myself of that. I need to make sure that I recognize that these kids of mine are still just kids. We need extra ice cream dates. We need more mud in our lives. We need and deserve more sunburn and bee stings and grilled hot dogs and root beer and just plain days when we run around on the beach at the local lake this summer. Because they are kids, no matter how often their lovely minds and ever-changing heights and faces try to convince me otherwise.
These days will be over soon enough. Remind yourself of that. It’s okay to forget how young they are sometimes … even a lot of times. It’s only natural. Just as long as you turn around and haul everything back to the present where Pokémon and candy mean everything and long summer days will last way longer than you and me if we play them all just right when we’re done.