When you have more than one child the youngest, no matter how old they are, is doomed to be the baby forever. They can’t help it and neither can you. It’s not that they aren’t both loved, nurtured, cared for and doted on it’s just that one is the little one, the young one, the baby and one (or more depending on your family composition) is not. When there is danger both of my children are the babies but that is a protective instinct I think. A few years ago there was a biggish earthquake in the middle of the night and as my husband and I jumped out of bed I shouted to him, “get the babies” who at the time were I think 11 and 14. Later he laughed at me, but who knew who I meant! Most of the time there is one big girl and one baby and writing this I know I sounds completely ridiculous. But this is one of the many challenges of parenting.
When my son was born his sister was just over three. She was the “big girl” and so she has remained. That does not mean she has missed out on being over-protected or indulged, I am really great at both so she is all set. But there is a thing that happens where I am comfortable with her confidence, her independence, her growing-up self. I am a little confused by this whole business of her moving out and going off to college in a week, but I know it is time, it feels right if also strange. The baby however, is about to go into high school. That I am having a really hard time processing.
The thing is I don’t want either of them to go back to being little, that was wonderful but it’s over and that’s fine. Now is wonderful too and it changes every day. It’s more about the passage of time maybe, you know everything is going by fast and then all of a sudden something happens that creates a pause and you can see how far you have come, you know that stranger bends lie very near on your road and perhaps you thought they were farther off. They are not.
I like taking care of my children. Not in a co-dependent way, I hope, but in a loving way. I like to see them take care of themselves as well, to know that they are competent and capable and that they can do it. That means that sometimes you have to back off and let them try, you have to let go of that little hand so they can walk on their own even if it means they are going to fall. That’s just part of the process: you move from hand holder, to band-aid holder, to remote service coordinator (yes, I do know who will deliver the chicken soup to the dorm when the big girl gets sick). I knew how to do that when they were really babies. I would prop the baby on my hip and hold the hand of the big girl and we would go on our way. I put the baby down a long time ago of course, and I have let go of the little hands that are now bigger than my own. And it is all just as it should be, and I am so terribly confused about how we got to this point where the baby is playing football and that means there are people who are trying to knock him down, to hurt him, and just thinking of that makes me clench my jaw and breathe harder.
The baby is big too. Now what?