There are milestones in a child's life--learning to crawl, putting one front in front of the other, kindergarten, prom--that we wait for with (sometimes) eager anticipation. And then there are things we just didn't see coming. The changes they make when we aren't watching.
You mothers will understand.
You have a baby. He's small and helpless and hungry and wide awake when you want to be sound asleep. She's everything you ever imagined motherhood to be. Then, quite suddenly, he's one month old. Then she has a first birthday, a second, and so on. Still, as difficult as it is for you to believe that your baby has learned how to walk and run and use the potty without your help, these are milestones you expected.
I remember when both of my boys were nearly four. One day it suddenly occurred to me that they weren't babies anymore. I hadn't been counting their age in months for a couple of years but there is something about that toddler stage that just gets lumped together in my mind as a time when my children were very, very small. Then they turned four. I stopped thinking of them as babies--or fragile, small beings--and started thinking of them as little boys. It was a nostalgic, almost depressing realization. As much as I was looking forward to the next stage in their lives, I had to take a minute, in the middle of an otherwise busy day of chasing them around, to mourn the loss of the tiniest stage of their existence.
A couple of years went by. The youngest was still living in that sweet spot of toddlerhood while we held on to the last warm days of summer before we sent our oldest to kindergarten. It was a milestone I'd thought about and known was coming since I held that teeny newborn, fresh from my womb, in the arms that had longed to snuggle him since before I could really even remember.
Kindergarten ended and first grade started without fanfare. Honestly, I never thought about the fact that one day my kids would start first grade. In my mind, there would be kindergarten and then a bunch of years full of a lot of science projects and spelling words.
Really, relatively speaking, first grade has been fairly uneventful. (The grade itself, that is. The year has been a little crazy.) But there has been one major event that I will forever associate with the first grade. I imagine that, for a lot of parents, it happens in second grade. You see, I stupidly assumed that there was the toddler stage, then the little boy stage, then a few preteen years and then a time when I would lock my child in his bedroom and let him out on his eighteenth birthday.
I was wrong.
There is a definite difference between a little boy and whatever my child has become. I suppose we just call it Boy. No longer particularly little, no where near a preteen. Garrett is older than most of his classmates and so, for us, it happened in the first grade.
Suddenly, he exchanges knowing looks with me when Matthew does something silly/annoying/babyish/obnoxious/all of the above. He laughs at things I think should still be sailing over his head.
"Hey, Mom!" he said and when I waited for him to continue he whispered, "I know the F word."
I swallowed hard. "What is it?"
He lowered his voice so far it was almost inaudible. "Fank," he replied. And while I am perfectly happy with him thinking that a made up word is the actual F word, I also know that his proximity to the real word means he's heard it a time or two and somehow, inherently, knows it's bad.
He has intellectual conversations with us.
He perceives things now that he never would have noticed before. He expresses thoughts and ideas and feelings differently now than he did just eight months ago. Somehow, quite when I wasn't paying attention, he grew up. Not all the way up, certainly, but enough for me to notice.
He's lanky and he has two big teeth jutting out from his upper jaw. He is becoming whoever it is that he'll be. And so, really, when I look back, it will be the first grade that I remember when I think of the time that my little boy pressed on and became just a boy.