It’s time to say good night to my seven-year-old son. I tuck him under his Iron Man blanket, wish him sweet dreams, and remind him of all the things he has to look forward to the next day. A dress down day at school, ice cream sold at lunch, and hockey game in the evening. When you’re seven, there’s always a lot to look forward to.
“Mommy, can I go to college?” he asks me.
“Sure, but that’s a long time from now,” I tell him. “You’re only in the first grade, Love,” I say squeezing his nose. “Don’t rush, okay? Enjoy being a kid. Okay?”
“Okay,” he says.
“What will you study in college?” I ask him out of curiosity.
“Football,” he says. “I’ll learn all about football.”
He has no idea what college really is, and I have no idea how I’ll ever let him go.
During an interview at his Pre-K graduation, he told the videographer that he wanted to be a popcorn maker when he grew up. By the time he finished Kindergarten, he moved on (up?) to sticker book seller. Now, on the cusp of second grade, he’s all about sports. His ambitions change with every new passion and experience, and I can’t imagine the greatness this dreamer of mine will accomplish in his life.
“Good night, sleep tight,” I say trying hard to imagine a teenaged version of this sweet, young boy.
Next door, my five-year-old son resists bedtime as usual. He’s on the floor making roaring sounds and playing with dinosaur toys. I kneel down next to him and pretend to nibble his leg, which makes him giggle. I ask him to please get in his bed and remind him that he’s really close to earning a sleepover if he stays in his bed all night.
“Okay, Mommy,” he says.
We’ll see. I kiss him on the nose. “Good night, sleep tight.”
This firecracker of a kid always has the same answer to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
A firefighter. Occasionally he adds a twist to his future livelihood. He’ll say astronaut firefighter or secret spy firefighter, but it always ends the same.
I haven’t seen his Pre-K graduation video yet, but its arrival is imminent. Perhaps he’ll tell the videographer he wants to be a magician firefighter or a beekeeper firefighter. Our house is cluttered with bizarre sculptures that he’s created out of paper towel tubes, plastic spoons, and scotch tape, so it’s far easier for me to imagine him as an artist than anything else. That said, as long as he aspires to battle blazes in outer space, he’s still my squishy five-year-old boy.
“I can’t believe my baby’s graduating Pre-K.”
I’ve been saying this a lot lately.
I felt a similar sense of disbelief when my popcorn maker finished preschool, but this time it’s different. This time, there’s no one next in line after the firefighter to announce to the world that he wants to be a super hero cape maker or an ice cream truck driver when he grows up. This is the last time I’ll watch one of my children fidgeting in a miniature, scratchy cap and gown at a preschool graduation ceremony.
“Maybe it’s time for another baby.”
I’ve been hearing this a lot lately.
No. That’s not what this is about. More babies don’t make the inevitable any less inevitable. New mothers think there’s no feat grander than birth and no miracle bigger than holding their tiny babies in their arms for the first time. All of it is astounding, but what they don’t yet understand is that the awe continues indefinitely, and the real feat of motherhood is accepting that time never stops, which means our babies eventually do grow up.
This is about standing perfectly still. It’s about holding my breath and squeezing my eyes shut and waving my hands in the air and screaming at the top of my lungs. It’s about doing something – anything – to freeze time in its tracks so I can revel in the enormity of this remarkable end and beginning, let its bittersweet memory settle deep in my bones, and prepare myself for wherever my boys’ hearts and imaginations take them next, which, despite my separation anxiety, I hope ultimately does include college.