Ben's birthday is tomorrow--he is turning 8 and I am crumbling. Yes, as usual, I am given to exaggeration, but every time my kids get a year older I find myself sad. I was just telling a friend that if you'd asked me five years ago if my life was going to change soon, I would have thought you were nuts. Five years ago Rachel was still 9, Julia 5, Ben 3 and Emma just 1. My life looked like an endless stretch of nursing, diapers, little sleep, ride on toys, chicken nuggets, Blue's Clue's and strollers. Bath time was a hurdle, forming a coherent thought just about impossible. What a difference five years make! Rachel is practically on her own, and Julia, Ben & Emma are a band of friends who play their own games, read their own books, talk on the phone to their own friends, and most definitely have their own opinions about everything.
Of course it isn't all bad! Independent kids mean I get plenty of rest, they do chores and can help me with things like gardening and painting things and can do a lot of their school work alone, too. Older kids are more reasonable and better able to empathize; they see the value in cooperation and although I sometimes despair over saying the same thing three hundred and ninety four times, in thoughtful moments I can see that overall they are caring, generous and will be lifelong friends. We can do a lot more now that we're unencumbered with strollers, diaper bags stuffed with snacks, extra outfits and toys--even Emma can walk all day now. We have more fun at museums, now that everyone can read and focus on signs and such, and we can do more programs geared to older kids, see shows and stay up late without worry.
But. When I think how sweet and gorgeous my babies were---when I think of all the hours spent rocking, nursing, cuddling, reading stories, playing silly little games, when I think of how a kiss could make the world right again and how easy they were to please---it just makes me sad. Sad because I know they have to grow up, sad because growing up means growing away before they can come back as adults, sad because having experienced it once already with Rachel, I am dreading the power struggles and inevitability of adolescence to make even the most easygoing child into a four headed beast with no coherent thought except, seemingly, to make everyone else in the family miserable. Sad, too, that no more babies means that I am no longer in the category of young mom--age doesn't matter here, either. Whether you're done breeding at 25 or 45, once all your kids are elementary school aged and above, you are in a different category of parenting. The fact that I feel young and look young for my decrepitude doesn't change the fact that having a teenager makes me...well, not so young. Let's face it, when you're toting a baby, you seem younger than when your kids are thinking about college.
So I am sad for many reasons. Why can't life stay the same, ever?
Happy birthday to my dear, sweet Ben. You are the boy I never knew I wished for, and my life could never be the same without you in it. I love you, and I always, always will.