We leave the house in the evening and walk to the barn to feed the cows, our family’s regular nightly chore. It’s just the two of us for once, so I don’t have to pay attention to the toddlers or nag your sister to hurry up. You walk beside me and you’re not sprinting ahead or lagging behind; you’re simply walking beside me, like another adult would. You tell me about something that happened that day at school with one of your friends and your teacher, and I’m half listening and half feeling grateful for this opportunity to spend time with this cheerful version of you, and not the argumentative and impatient one I’m seeing more of lately. See, you are definitely old enough now to realize that your parents are not perfect, not even close to perfect, but you’re not quite old enough to realize that your words and gestures matter to others and can even hurt your parents’ feelings. Right now, though, you’re simply happy.
So we walk side-by-side to the barn, and as we get there you run ahead to say hello to your cows. They are Grandpa’s cows, really, but you feel responsible for this evening feed, and you seem to want to prove to yourself that you don’t need my help with it. I’m fine with this arrangement and realize that I really am just a spectator here, now. You can turn on the hose to fill the water bucket, and evenly distribute the hay and the grain … it’s as though you don’t even remember that you used to have to plug your ears whenever you entered the barn because the cows were too noisy and you didn’t like to be scared.
We leave the barn and head home, but I’m going too slowly this time and you dart ahead of me. Walking behind you, I can watch you. You have found a neglected scooter on the side of the driveway, and you casually ride it home, obviously lost in thought. What are you thinking about? I used to know because you never stopped telling me, but now I am often forced to wonder. And when did your legs get so long? You are not my little kid anymore, I realize. You are your own. I am still responsible for you, of course, and I’ll keep reminding you that you have to listen to me without arguing, but you are suddenly more independent, somehow. I know that there are things you experience in your daily life now that you are likely to remember forever, and I am already becoming less of a central figure for you than I once was. This is freeing for me, and I trust you, but it’s so, so scary too.
But then we get home and you climb into my lap and ask me to look at a scratch on your foot that is so tiny I can’t even see it, and you ask for the Hello Kitty bandaid. You’re not grown up yet, my love. You are stuck in the in-between space, between being a big kid and a small one, and it’s a tricky place to be. It might be hard for both of us to adjust.
But I’m so happy to watch you grow, and so proud of the big kid you want to be, even though growing often comes with pain. I love who you are becoming and who you already are. Grade two is pretty new to us, but it suits you just fine. Keep getting bigger, baby … and also, stay small.