~Sunrise, Sunset. Swiftly, fly the years.~
From the minute a baby draws his first breath; his parents begin the uncontrollable frenzy to get that kid to start growing. It begins with the very first feeding. We make charts measuring the input and output, and fret with handwringing worry if the little bundle doesn’t make the appropriate gains. We obsessively scour developmental charts and compare notes with friends on Facebook to be sure that our little darlings are meeting or exceeding the appropriate milestone on the march to adulthood. Then, we beam with pride as we record another successful objective met in the annals of babyhood, and give ourselves a well earned pat on the back.*
*Note: This frenzy only really holds true for first children. Second and subsequent children are lucky if they have six pictures in their baby book, and let’s just come clean and admit that half of those milestone dates are just approximations.
At the same time, though we fear the unending march of time and cling in vain to the hope that there is a way that we can keep our babies from growing up.
It is a bittersweet paradox of parenting. You want them to get big, but you want them to stay little.
I found myself at the harsh crossroads of this paradox on a recent Disney Cruise. It was Pirates in the Caribbean Night, and we were gearing up for the Deck Party, starring Mickey and the gang, followed by the only fireworks show at sea. I had chosen a prime spot right on the rail of the upper deck because I was certain that the boys would want a front row seat for the show. The show began and the music swelled to a majestic climax that ushered Mickey Mouse and his friends to the stage. The crowd twittered with screams of excitement, and I turned to see my two oldest boys sitting on the ground not even looking at the stage, and the third one leaning on the rail with chagrin. “Just tell us when the fireworks start,” one of the older boys ho-hummed.
Clearly, Mickey Mouse had no power here.
I tried to wrap my head around the unspoken intent of the desire to not watch that show. It was fuzzy for a minute, but then the truth became crystal clear. Of course, the signs of the inevitable time thief have been popping up all around me lately. The shoes that I trip over these days are big enough to fit my own feet. I can no longer lift at least two of my kids and carry them to bed should the drift to sleep on the couch. And then there have been the words that have been drifting into their conversation. Words like “Whatever Mom” and “That’s so legit.” So, it’s not like I am surprised by this new development, but there is nothing like the disinterested shunning of the big-eared bastion of childhood to really drive the point home.
I went to bed feeling like I had just been reminded that I had a terminal disease and my days were numbered.
~Morning in Cozumel~
The morning dawned bright and early in Cozumel. Stepping out on our balcony to scarf my breakfast before the day began in earnest, I was immediately struck by the change in the weather. The air was warm and moist and the winds were soft. I furrowed my brow and tried to make sense of the change, both atmospheric and metaphoric. There wasn’t much time for deep ponderings, but there was enough of a moment for me to note that sleeping had done nothing to rid me of the feeling of loss or the slight sadness hangover I had from the Mickey shunning of the night before.
Once the boys were up, there was no more time for pity parties. The adventure of the day was a plan to head to Chakanaab National Park for a chance to SNUBA for the first time. There was a flurry of gearing up and learning what to do that left no time for my mind to wander. Once we were in the water, the mister and I were completely absorbed in the moment, as we worked feverishly to help the three boys, all arms and flippers, to learn the basics of scuba diving. With intense effort, we transferred our knowledge as certified divers to these three neophytes, and armed with their new found knowledge, they sunk under the water one at a time.
I stayed on the surface to be sure that everything, and everyone was settled and safe. Finally, I slipped into the blue water and was able to the let the silence surround me enough so that I could look around and see what was happening in that moment. The vast blueness spreading in every direction made me see things clearly once again. Below me, I counted three divers with long lanky legs churning confidently behind them. One of them, one of my precious baby boys, turned to see me, offered me an excited wave, and then quickly motioned that I follow the pack deeper into the ocean.
They were slipping away so quickly, getting further and further away from me as their excitement to explore overtook them, that I was tempted to kick quickly to catch up. But something held me back for just a brief moment, so that I could soak in the tangible beauty of that moment. Those were my boys floating so confidently through the wide ocean. My boys who just moments before had fumbled with unfamiliar equipment and struggled with absorbing a new skill. My boys who just a few years before hadn’t even been able to swim, and a few years before that had taken their first steps. My heart swelled with awe at the privilege of watching them take that next step towards independence.
With that I quickly kicked my flippers to join them in exploring the ocean, knowing that the moments that I would share with them were, as always, numbered.
Back on dry land, I was able to think through the events of the past 24 hours and marvel at how those small moments had been woven together in an intricate tapestry. The sadness and mourning of the loss of Mickey Mouse was a necessary part of the being able to appreciate the joy of the underwater adventure. In the end, giving up Mickey Mouse (and all that he represents) was a paltry price to pay for the joy of watching my children reaches a new level of maturity.
I know that this is not the first time I will dance this dance. There will be many, many more moments where I relinquish a precious moment from the past, to give my children the next step into their future. I know now that there will always be a moment of sadness and mourning that comes when I pass from one stage to the next, but that it will be quickly replaced by the triumph that comes from knowing that I had a hand in giving my children courage and confidence to take out into the wide world and conquer it on their own. There is nothing-not the smell of a newborn head, or the elation of the first uncertain step, or even a pixie dusted mouse can compare to that feeling.