I was ashamed. I couldn’t remember the last time I had taken my boys to the park. At ages ten and twelve they already have schedules that prevent them from enjoying unstructured play. And so, I resolved to make a change. It was a beautiful summer day ripe for a playground, frisbee, and a picnic lunch. We arrived at the park with the “big slides” and the boys jumped out of the van to explore. I followed behind them only to be met with a huge surprise:
“Playground equipment intended for children ages 5-12 years old.”
Wait! What? When did they put up that sign?
Oh, Mama, that sign has always been there. It’s the same sign I ignored when my kids were four and two and they insisted on playing at the “big kid park.” But today, as my children wove in and out of toddlers and their caregivers, it hit me: My first born is “aging out.” His brother is not far behind.
I used to call them milestones.
I kept a Baby’s First Year journal for both kids. From the first smile to first words, from the first tooth to first steps, every accomplishment was an exciting milestone. Each was a progression towards something that should be celebrated. Back then it never occurred to me that each marker was actually an aging out of sorts.
I was so excited about the first crawl that I didn’t realize this was the end of the glorious “potted plant” stage (you know, where your son can solidly sit in the same spot and stay out of trouble.) First words meant communication and also the end of the adorable coos and babbles. Sleeping through the night meant more sleep for everyone, but it also meant no more intimate breastfeeding in the quiet of 2 a.m.
I did not focus on the aging out. Rather, I saw opportunities for aging in! Now he could play with small-parts toys designed for ages three and up, wear underwear, play soccer with Turf Tigers and basketball at Twin Lakes. He was taking showers instead of baths, getting rid of his training wheels, reading, and growing tall-enough for water slides.
Where has the time gone?
This month I will officially have a teenager. I am not bothered that I will have a thirteen-year-old. Wasn’t it just yesterday when he was putting together his first Lego set? Now the Legos are in all stages of assembly and disassembly and lay virtually untouched. No more children’s pricing at museums or movie theaters. There are fewer options for day camps. No more kids’ menus (but who am I kidding? He hasn’t eaten off of the kids’ menu since he was five!) And, after seven seasons, there will be no more junior baseball at the Winslow Sports Complex.
So what now? What’s next?
And so what milestones lay ahead? First armpit hair? First heartbreak? Driving? Graduation? College move-in?!!! These realities are so scary and complicated and seem nothing like “the first haircut” or “the first knock-knock joke.”
I admit that I am mourning my older son’s aging out of childhood. (Facebook memories are not helping me cope, either.) But I also am trying to channel that part of me who once celebrated the aging in. Yes, while the washable markers have long been depleted of their ink, in their places are sharpies and high-end colored pencils. Stick figures have morphed into complicated sketches of cityscapes and stadia. Inarticulate words have turned into conversations that are real, deep, and thoughtful.
Looking toward the future
No, my teenager won’t play baseball at Winslow, but he’ll be back to umpire the games. And, the baseball that he will play will look like, well, real baseball. No, he might not be able to attend certain summer camps, but now he can take group exercise classes at The Y with me. And, what makes my heart sing is that he has aged in to being able to volunteer at more local nonprofits in a hands-on and meaningful way.
Yes, there will be times when I will emotionally reflect on all the things that are now past. Those milestones will stare at me, tauntingly, in the rearview mirror of motherhood. Still, I will take my son to the playground if he wants. I will encourage him to swing and to slide. And I can rest assured that my soon-to-be teenager has not aged out of everything. You might even say I am comforted to know that he is not too old for potty humor, farting, and laughing every time someone says, “Uranus.”