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When little kids become big kids

It’s not something that happens on a specific day or with any identifiable milestones. You go along for years with “little” kids, who need at first to be cared for in every way: you feed them, bathe them, dress them, soothe them, talk to them, sing to them, teach them, and amuse them.

Then as time goes on, one of these jobs will drop away. One day your toddler grabs the spoon and now all you have to do is set the food him front of him. Another day your preschooler will decide to dress herself (and you get to live with the mismatched consequences). Like magic your children learn to walk, fix their grammatical errors, and no longer need help with the remote control (that probably happened first, though).


My blue-eyed girl in her motorcycle boots.

But still, you have little kids. You always know where they are in the house even if you aren’t directly taking care of them. You might still hold their hands crossing roads and help them with their seatbelts. Whenever they are not with you, you make sure that someone else is directly responsible for them.

Then one day you realize you’re not exactly sure where you child is. You know that she went to a friend’s house to play, and then at some point she’ll end up at another friend’s house where you’ll pick her up. Or he went over to a friend’s house to “do stuff,” and that stuff could involve anything from going to the beach or to the movies.

You realize that when you have to go do errands, you just yell “be back soon!” up the stairs and leave. You realize that when you try to grab her hand at a crosswalk, the look on her face reminds you she hasn’t been willing to do that for two years at least. You realize that you aren’t choosing your clothing in the morning based on whether it hides baby drool, can stand up to being embedded with ooblick, or has enough pockets to hold all the treasures your kids find on a walk.

You realize that you have “big kids.”

I broke one of my longstanding rules recently when I offered a photo of my daughter to accompany an article I had written. I asked my daughter if it was OK, given that she was half-naked in the photo. She was fine with it, and so was I: If anyone could recognize my big kid from that photo, I’d be shocked. Her curly blond hair is gone. (Straight now, and recently dyed black just for kicks.) Her bright blue eyes are now more of a light green. She’s twice as tall and you’ll never find her, these days, wearing a diaper like in the photo. Though she still does like to wear fun rain boots, she no longer calls them her “motorcycle boots” as she did back then.

After I asked her, she pointed out my own rule about not using photos of my kids if they are recognizable. I asked her to find a similarity in the photo, and it was hard. Yes, the photo looks just like her, but if it were on the cover of Time Magazine, people would hardly be stopping her on the streets to congratulate her.

It’s a strange thing to realize that your little child is gone and will never come back. Certainly, she’s in there somewhere. One of the things I love about the photo is that you can see her personality shining through. But big kids build containers for their inner little selves. If we parents do our jobs right, we and others who have loving relationships with our kids will still know that inner little self. But out in the big world where our kids spend more and more of their time, it’s necessary to keep the little person contained and protected.

While I’m writing this, my daughter is off at another summer camp (see this piece, this one, and this one about why we love summer camp so much), and I actually don’t know what she’s doing, who she’s with, and what she’s learning. She loves this independence, and likes to tease us by pretending when she comes home that she’s not going to tell us anything about her day. We are experiencing that feeling of letting go, our little kids growing into their big kid selves, and onward, watching our teen growing into the man he will be.

It’s a bittersweet time: On the one hand, I am happily wearing a dress today and not worrying about ooblick. On the other, that little kid time is so sweet and so irreplaceable. It seems like forever when you’re in it, but once it’s gone, you realize how fleeting it was.

Posted in Parenting.

5 Responses

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  1. Jen Carole says

    Totally with you on this one.

  2. Christine@TheAums says

    With my youngest now 4, I am so far from the land of babies I loved and knew so well for a good 6-8 years. I miss it terribly but I do enjoy the new phase of our lives that includes spontaneous field trips and longer trips away from home. A whole new world has opened up for my family and I’m taking advantage as much as possible.

  3. aislyn says

    My only child is three now and this article made me cry! Life is so bittersweet and we must focus on the sweet…

    • Suki says

      Yes, enjoy your little people and remember the lovely things about them when they’re small. It’s very exciting to have “big kids” and see them developing as people, but you do lose the little person amidst all those big kid abilities.

  4. Leah Mastilock says

    Beautiful post! The time does go by fast and I will be sad when my kids hide away those awesome, unhindered personalities they have as little ones!

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