Is Watching Your Kid Grow Up Supposed To Hurt This Bad?

You start to feel a little weepy and you don’t know why until someone says “He’s getting so big.”
Neil Overy via Getty Images

I’ve been a little weepy lately. A few days ago, on the way home, a sad detail in a book made me burst into tears like I’d been recently been broken up with. I looked around the subway car for someone to meet my eye so I could say “sad book,” but this is New York City and we avoid crazies.

The next day, my 5-year-old son and I had an argument about what kind of pants he would be wearing to school. He has very strong positions on pants ― short preferred, elastic waistband, NO strings. I’ve been cutting the strings off his pants for years.

We argued, and I yelled, and on the way to school I apologized for yelling and as I watched his retreating back disappear down the school hallway I felt like weeping again.

I’ve heard that being a parent is like letting your heart walk around outside your body. That always felt overwrought to me. Most of the time being a parent means feeling angry that your child won’t listen to you, or annoyed that he won’t stop climbing all over you, or happy because you’ve had a fun day and you love him.

Then there’s a school shooting somewhere and you can’t even think about it in in case you somehow accidentally think it into existence, or you watch a dumb movie like “Gravity” and realize that if anything ever happens to your kid they can go ahead and shoot you into space with Sandra Bullock. And you realize you are completely vulnerable, that your whole life could be destroyed in a second.

Or one day, like now, you just start to feel a little weepy and you don’t know why until someone says “He’s getting so big” and you realize that your baby boy is looking so long lately, with his legs like a little frog, and one day soon he won’t think you’re the actual greatest, best person in the world anymore and he won’t yell your name out of sheer excitement when you come into a room and he won’t beg to sleep snuggled up against you anymore because he is growing up.

Which is right and good and natural and exactly what you what to happen but ohmygod, is it supposed to hurt this much?

Or you see him hurting and you wonder what it will feel like when his problems are real, like when he gets his heart broken instead of being upset that his pants have strings, and you realize this whole parenting thing is a lifetime of goddamn pain you’ve willingly signed up for.

That absolute BEST CASE SCENARIO, this human being that you love so much will grow apart from you, and leave your home, and maybe roll his eyes when you contact him on whatever future technology we’re all carrying around then. Because of course you don’t want your grown child to need you too much; your best parenting decisions are supposed to keep you from creating some kind of maladjusted man-baby who loves his mother too much, but just a little you wish you could live in this moment right now forever and CUT THE STRINGS OFF YOUR SON’S PANTS FOREVER IF THAT’S WHAT HE NEEDS.

And THAT POEM about how one day you’ll put your child down and never pick him back up again? You know, the one that somebody always shares on Facebook that goes: “There will come a time when you will feed your baby/for the very last time/They will fall asleep on you after a long day/And it will be the last time you ever hold your sleeping child/One day you will carry them on your hip/then set them down/And never pick them up that way again” and “You will scrub their hair in the bath one night/And from that day on they will want to bathe alone/They will hold your hand to cross the road/Then never reach for it again.”

That poem ought to be illegal. That poem is a WEAPON.

I’ve been wondering if every little thing I do with my son is “the last time” and I think I’m freaking my kid by saying he’s getting too heavy for me to pick him up.

“I’ll be really sad when you can’t pick me up anymore, Mama,” he says and the one time I said something about him growing up and living on his own he started to cry and said he wanted to live with me forever. I tell him he’ll change his mind by then, but I don’t try too hard to convince him.

And I try not to be annoyed when he crawls all over me and won’t give me a moment’s peace, not because it MIGHT BE THE LAST TIME, but because I know he won’t want all my attention forever.

And I guess, like so many big truths in life, we just have to try not to think about it too much.

But today my heart is walking around outside my body and he is 5 years old and started kindergarten this year. I want to live with him forever, too.

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