The Bitter and the Sweet

It happens every spring, that end-of-the-school-year crazy that hits mid-April and crashes over us like a wave, until we’re washed up on the sandy shores of June. It always happens, and I am always taken by surprise by school musicals, awards assemblies, field trips, Scout nights, finalizing grades for my computer students, saying goodbye to my eighth graders. I’m never ready, and this year I was less prepared than ever.

I’ve spent more than a decade of my life living with a preschooler. It’s over now. Two days ago, my littlest biscuit, my funny little Squish, graduated from preschool. He starts kindergarten in the fall. It’s a blow. I knew that it would be. There’s no way to prepare, really. I’ve been cut off at the knees; I can barely breathe. He’s a big kid now.

Kids grow up. They get older every, single year. And so do we. It has never really bothered me before. Growing up is a good thing. It means diapers are done, we’ve outgrown LeapPad’s entire product line (don’t even get me started here), we can go out for a meal without embarrassing ourselves. But there’s a flip side. They’re one year closer to leaving us.

Squish is five. We’ll be living with him for a long time to come, for better or for worse. He’s five. But his sister? She’s seventeen. She begins her senior year of high school in the fall. He embarks on his journey of childhood learning while hers is coming to an end. My bookends.

She will leave us. I am painfully aware that this time next year, she will be picking out the decorations for her dorm. So much change. Her departure is so imminent that discussions on what to do with her room are no longer theoretical. She will leave us.

I do want her to move on. She has to, actually. The boys share a room. That bunk bed will be outgrown sooner rather than later, and neither of them has accepted my suggestion to pitch a tent on the back lawn. She’ll move out and be on her own. And I am grieving. Gone is the little girl with pigtails and gap-toothed grin. She left behind a young woman who is preparing to face the world. It seems like yesterday she was dancing in the living room wearing her ruby slippers. A couple of weeks ago, she went to prom.

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If she grows up, that means her brothers are right behind her. Everything about our lives right now suggests change. We’re downsizing my vehicle in a couple of weeks. The reality is that we are unlikely to make long trips as a family of five anymore, and we’re done with bulky car seats. We can’t justify keeping a van. Even the family car highlights our paradox. Our kids are growing, but the family is shrinking.

To the casual observer, my life looks the same. I work, I wrangle kids, we get ready for some summer fun. But it’s not the same. My littlest guy, sporting a hoodie he refuses to remove even though it’s 80 degrees takes refuge at this moment in his cardboard box. But that box will fall apart and be taken to the curb for recycling. The hoodie will be outgrown and taken against his will to be tucked away as a precious reminder of the child he was. He is growing up, too.

Squish has been a challenging child to raise. As my husband sometimes says, it feels like he’s been five for half our lives. But even he will grow up. He graduated from preschool this week. I wept as he sang the school’s traditional preschool graduation songs “Tooty-ta” and “Tony Chestnut” with joyful abandon, just as his sister and brother before him.  One day in the future that feels not quite distant enough, he’s going to walk across another stage, receive another diploma. And it will be for keeps. I am grieving.

36 thoughts on “The Bitter and the Sweet

  1. You’ve just reminded me of the day we took our oldest son to college. After we helped him get settled in his dorm and said good-bye, I fell to pieces. As I cried and cried in the car on the way home, I confused my poor husband by blubbering about our son’s first day of kindergarten. I couldn’t help it–it was weird how leaving our son at college made me feel exactly like I did when I left him for his first day of school, thirteen years earlier. Kind of a full circle type of thing, a thing only other moms can understand. Great post!

  2. I’m sorry, and happy for you at the same time. Raising kids is a challenge, and it’s a success to keep them alive long enough to become adults. It is a mixed feeling though. My son is heavier than I am now, and getting too big to ride on my wheelchair with me. My 7 year old can still be on my lap, but not much longer. I’ll miss them being so close, but I’m proud of them growing too.

  3. Wow. That made me cry and panic about my little one. But luckily I was reading while she sat on top of me — which made me pretty certain that she has no plans to grow up. Right? She isn’t going to grow up ever?

  4. You said it so well! I feel like each day z is growing and growing (and she is only almost-3) and I want to hold on. But I also want her to grow and become an independent, strong, wonderful woman. Parenting is such a double edged sword, but I am so glad to be doing it. 🙂

  5. I know it’s a lot different when it’s your own kids, but I still marvel at how fast we are actually young. It is a bit weird that I’m suddenly nearing 25 when I was a teenager not that long ago, but the weirdest things is looking at photos of my little cousins that I babysat when they were 2 or 3, and now they’re 14 and 15, tall, grown up, teenagers. It’s strange to think the time passed by that quickly, when once, when I was still young too, that they’d never grow up.

  6. Oh man. There’s nothing in my eye at all. AT ALL. Moving along.

    I think posts like this are so beautifully terrifying for me because they give me evidence that my little girl isn’t going to be little for too much longer. Sometimes I wish I could trap her where she is for a little longer.

    • The beauty of it is that you probably won’t believe she’ll grow up until she actually does. That element of denial allows us to protect ourselves until the last possible minute.

  7. I’m graduating from college this weekend. I’m walking across that stage and getting that diploma! And I’m certainly expecting a few tears from my own mom. I am the oldest, and my two younger brothers are graduating from high school and middle school, respectively. She gets a huge reminder of how we’re all growing up, all at once!

  8. It’s funny, as someone who doesn’t have kids but turns over the possibility in my mind, I think, But 18 years is such a long time… and how can I handle it when they leave?

  9. Our youngest graduated from college last weekend, so I can relate. She moved from her dorm into her own place instead of home. It has hit me pretty hard. (On the other hand – her room is still FULL of stuff – but she took the bed). We work so hard for them to be independent, but there is this tiny part of us that grieves once they do it. Great words and thoughts – thanks for sharing them (and your kids) with us.

  10. I feel you! I am struggling with the thought of weaning my little monkey because it will be the last time I am breastfeeding a baby. It will be soon though, he is 18 months now and doesn’t need it anymore. To quote a writer I admire: I am grieving.

  11. But isn’t five years old the greatest age? I wish I could freeze every stage of that age and replay it every time I need a pick-me-up. They are so full of joy and creativity. Enjoy, enjoy! Squish is a main character in a children’s book if ever there would be such a thing. He’s adorable!

  12. Oh my gosh. That prom picture! She is gorgeous. And I love the look back in time from the old photos. Sweet and bitter, indeed.

  13. Enjoy your sweeties while you can, because you’re right – time is flying by. My baby graduated from college on Saturday. I still can’t figure out where the years went.

  14. Squish and your eldest daughter are the same age apart as my sister and I. And, while at that age I couldn’t appreciate my sister (she was like a little Squish-ette tag along when I was with my friends) I’m so glad I have her now. It’s bittersweet to see the time fly by so quickly, but you have your posts to remember all the captured moments – both good, bad and crazy.

  15. Awwwww, the good news is – boys most often need their mothers longer than boys! So even when Squish is 18 he’ll probably still need you to do his laundry, cook for him, etc., etc. so if you squint you still might think he’s five!

  16. Can I dread my kid growing up when he’s still in the womb?? haha. Seriously, this is beautiful and I’m definitely crying over here. Thanks for sharing your stories with us!

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