You’re five years old today, so let’s get this out of the way:
You are not growing up too fast.
Like a lot of harmless parenting small talk, like a lot of women’s magazine shorthand, this sentiment makes my back go up and you’re attuned to that now. Let me explain why Mama says the sharp things to the nice ladies at parties: “She’s growing up too fast” is not a harmless thing to say.
It implies you’re doing something wrong by becoming a person. It implies I don’t want to see you taller, stronger, faster, smarter. To lament your growing up seems to me to lament your progress, or say that you’re not delightful now. If I nod and say the expected oh I know, where does the time go, I’m agreeing that there is a way I prefer you, and it is not the way you are.
I understand why people say things like this. It’s presumed to be a neutral sentiment. There are things I miss about baby-you. There is less snuggling now than there used to be. Your noises are louder. Your falls are harder. Your successes involve more work on all our parts.
But you don’t have any choice here. You can’t stop growing up, so what is the point in bemoaning it in front of you?
Plus, the alternative really sucks.
I have friends whose children have rare or lethal illnesses. I have friends and relatives who’ve lost children, who’ve miscarried, who are estranged and don’t know if their children are alive or well. Their children won’t grow up, fast or at any other speed. I see their faces in my own nostalgia for your ratty baby blankets and am ashamed.
You are supposed to grow up. That’s how it’s supposed to work. I’m supposed to see it, take joy in it, cheer you on. I have to run faster to keep up with you but that doesn’t mean you need to slow down. Our conversations get more involved as your questions get more difficult — what is God, when do people die, what does it mean to “get busy in the Burger King bathroom,” why do you have to keep taking skating lessons if the first one was a disaster — but I don’t wish you less curiosity, less appetite for the difficult things like religion and hip-hop and hockey. This is how it goes.
If we’re lucky.
And we’re so very, very lucky. We have such good fortune, the three of us. We sit at the dinner table and laugh and laugh and I wonder if I am allowed to enjoy another person this much. You’ve started reading words on your own and doing chores. You do simple math and count in Spanish and call Ada “peanut butter cup” and you and your father build Lego sets together and you and I take nature walks and read books and do crafts about space.
You copy what we say and do and we are not always as careful as we should be, which leads to our talks about the lyrical stylings of the Digital Underground and why Donald Trump is such a “toilet animal.” It’s clear which of your enthusiasms — sparkles, fashion — are from your friends and from TV, but some of your ideas are so completely your own I wonder if they’ve sailed into your head from the ether fully formed.
We frequently run into a homeless fellow who takes shelter by an abandoned store. He’s known to be friendly but has rejected various appeals to help him find shelter, housing or services, and so the neighborhood looks after him in the ways that he’ll let it. You became somewhat fixated on “the man who lives outside” and decided you wanted to buy him a Christmas present, so we purchased a warm fleecy blanket and tucked some money and cookies and juice inside.
I warned you before we left the house that he might not want to talk, but he was awake and wearing a festive Santa hat and grinned when you gave him his present. When he asked if you’d picked it out you said yes, and wished him a merry Christmas. Then you skipped away down the road, alight with the joy of doing something small and kind.
You are growing up just the way you should.
Not too fast at all.