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Parenting: We celebrate growth, and mourn little losses along the way | #parenting


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One recent afternoon, I mentioned a book to my boys that we used to read together almost every night, “Brothers at Bat.” Over and over, they’d ask for it. We’d say some of the lines together, lines I can still recite. I would tear up at the same spot every night. They’d look at the book when I wasn’t in their room. Its pages are now battered, its cover worn.

And yet, when I mentioned that book the other day, they both looked at me blankly. They didn’t remember it. I had assumed that it was seared in their memory as much as it was mine, especially because, I swear to you, we were reading this book together very recently. But my “recently” was almost a lifetime ago for them. I choked on my breath a little as I looked at one son, who just passed me in height, and the other, who was busying himself reading a 500-page book.

Who are these creatures? Truly, when did this happen?

We mostly don’t know which moment will be the last of whatever that stage of childhood is. When was the last evening I washed my boy’s hair? The last time I pushed him in a swing before he just did it himself? What was the last night I read “Brothers at Bat” aloud with a freshly bathed boy tucked on either side of me?

You don’t know which park visit or backyard ball toss will turn into a memory that is just that — a memory. Or which stunning comment at the zoo that left you laughing in fits the rest of the day simply floats away like those dandelion seed puffs, along with millions of other moments you will never recall. It feels like those days, those moments will be with you forever.

Although I wouldn’t want to go back — we’re having so much fun right now! — I sure wouldn’t mind a visit for a few hours. To remember what that baby chubbiness felt like. To hear those little voices. To take a moment to appreciate one of them discovering something for the first time. To consider myself then with the knowledge I have now. Would I have known what to pay more attention to because it was so utterly fleeting?

I thought a lot lately about all the evenings and weekends we have spent over the years on the Little League field nearby. Our younger son, now 12, had his final game recently. Which means that after a decade of both he and his brother running the bases from the time they could barely read, this stage of baseball is over for my family. It’s not a small thing: It was on this field where he made his friends, where we made some of ours. The seats were often filled with his grandpa and neighbor. This was where his dad helped coach so he could “have a front seat” to this part of their lives. So when that last at-bat happened, the tears welled. Because as with most things related to raising kids, it’s another little loss. A tiny grief. A reminder that parenting, which is made up of moment after moment of guiding, teaching, raising our children is also, therefore, essentially made up of moment after moment of letting go.

Who created this script? Was that really the best narrative arc there, buddy?

I recognize these milestones as celebrations, of course, but also as the tiny losses that fill our lives as parents. We lose a little every time our child grows, each time they graduate to whatever is next. Each moment they become a little more independent. Which is also, ironically, what we strive for as parents.

A quick scroll through Instagram this morning: “Obligatory last day of school photo” “Bags packed for camp!” “Last walk to elementary school.”

We document it all in our own ways. We mark these moments of firsts, lasts, growing up on social media, in notes to friends, in our own minds and ways. We repost old photos, we peruse “throwback” pictures, we talk about that time when. We grasp on where we can, knowing these days are like trying to hold a cloud in your fingers.

These losses are reflected right along with the growth, in the graduation photos, in the newborn photos. “How can you be 6 months old already!” an Instagram caption may say. “Oh, honey, just you wait,” I think. I say this knowing there is a mother somewhere looking at me, with my ‘Oh my goodness, how can he be a sophomore? … A 7th grader?’ who is thinking, “Oh, honey, just you wait.

The last moment my kid was at bat at that final Little League game wasn’t one of those lost memories that whooshed away with the breeze. I knew it was coming, I knew I would pay attention. I knew, I knew.

His coach, our friend, who had been with him since he was 5 cheered him from third base, saying “Do it for the Presidents!” — their first team together. My boy struck out. His last at-bat in Little League. There were tears, reflection and also, then, a lot of laughter afterward when he and his pals made up a game well into the evening, as the sun set.

That process he went through — tears, reflection, laughter — it’s sort of the same formula of parenting, isn’t it? Maybe we grieve just a little, but they are growing, they are becoming, and we are lucky enough to continue to live it.

“You ok, mama?” a dad nearby asked me as I watched that boy on the field wistfully. Yep, I’ll be ok. My kids are growing up, and that’s wonderful, and that’s sad. We’ll head into whatever the next stage is. And I’ll celebrate them as they continue to move on and become themselves even more. That is, after all, what we parents are here for.

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