Saying Goodbye to Our Kids' Childhoods, One Ritual at a Time

I turned away, my eyes filled with tears, as I put away the peanut butter and jelly., I thought.
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I knew this day would come. I'd been dreading it. But I thought I had more time. I thought my son would be little for just a bit longer. But last night, as I zipped his lunch box and placed it on a shelf in the refrigerator, we had this conversation:

Trey: "Mom, could you please not put notes in my lunch anymore?"

Me: (Pause, as my heart sinks and I gather myself, and then) "Why, buddy?"

Trey: "The other kids laugh at me."

Me: "They do?"

Trey: "Well, a couple."

Me: "Their moms don't put notes in their lunches?"

Trey: "No. And sometimes M. grabs my note and reads it out loud. It's embarrassing."

Me: "Well, I don't really write anything embarrassing. I usually just say 'have a nice day.'"

Trey: "Sometimes you write 'buddy' and 'Love, Mama' and 'xoxo.'"

Me: (Gulp) "But I like writing you notes."

Trey: "I like it too (pause), but I don't want to be humiliated in front of the whole school."

Me: "Okay. But... I already made your lunch and put a note in it."

Trey: "Mom!"

Me: "Can this just be the last one?"

Trey: Okay.

Me: Don't throw it away. We'll save it because it's the last one. We'll put it in your memory box.

Trey: Okay. (smile, pause) Maybe you can just draw pictures from now on. Just don't write anything.

Me: "Okay, buddy."

I turned away, my eyes filled with tears, as I put away the peanut butter and jelly. He's only 8. I'm not ready for this, I thought. It's all going by too fast. I knew I should take advantage of the teachable moment and say something inspiring, but I just couldn't. My heart was in my throat.

I was filled with so many emotions; it was all I could do to hold back the tears as we moved on to a different topic. I was sad and already feeling the loss of a special daily ritual. And yet, I was also feeling immense pride for my son. I could tell that the conversation was difficult for him, not because of his own feelings, but because he was worried about hurting mine. My heart was also breaking for him because I knew he was conflicted; he liked the notes, but didn't want to be laughed at or seem different. He came to such a mature decision, asking me to include pictures instead of notes, holding onto a piece of the ritual -- a piece of something special between us -- while protecting himself too.

My husband wasn't home, but if he had been he might have told me that it was okay, that it's just lunch box notes. But it's more than that. It's the first of many rituals that I'll have to say goodbye to. I won't get any notice that I'm going to lose them, no time to prepare myself; they'll just be gone one day.

I'll be honest; part of me doesn't want my boys to grow up at all. I know that sounds crazy, but there are days when I just want to freeze time. With every passing year, my kids lose some of their innocence and it feels like I'm losing something too. Something precious that I'll never get back. But I know that part of parenting is preparing our kids for these moments of growth and change, and letting them go a little along the way, too. The hard part is letting go when all you want to do is hold on.

Trey came to a compromise, and I think I've found one too. I may just have to write him breakfast notes instead of lunch notes. He'll still receive a positive message for the day, but with no chance of embarrassment. I'll tell myself that I'm honoring his request and acknowledging that things are changing, while I hold on for just a little while longer.