My dad used to scoop me into his lap, curling my knees to my chest as he held me tight, pressing me into a wriggling little ball. I’d scream with laughter until I couldn’t breathe. When the pressure seemed too great and I might succumb to his grasp, he’d release me. Though freed, I’d usually stay put, tucked into his arms.
It was our game. He said he was trying to squeeze me down into a little ball because I was growing too fast. He wanted to reverse my progress. Keep me small forever. We’d laugh and cuddle, but it was futile. Despite being condensed into countless little balls throughout my childhood and beyond, I grew up.
Now I am grown. That still feels surreal sometimes. Frequently I’ll find myself doing something mundane—washing the dishes, paying a bill, driving to the store—and it will hit me. I’m an adult. I have a house and a husband. Together, we have two boys. I still feel like that kid sometimes though, pressed tight, loving the comfort of my father’s embrace as we both tried to hold onto my childhood a little longer.
My oldest son is two-and-a-half. He’s wild. His hair falls in dirty blond ringlets as he launches himself from couch cushion to couch cushion, often narrowly avoiding a collision with the coffee table. I’m so proud of his growth. He can use his words to communicate his intent (more-or-less) in a way that seemed impossible a few months ago.
My youngest is 10 months and on the cusp of walking. He snakes around the house, pulling himself forward on his forearms then pauses to look back and grin, showing his four teeth—two up top, two down below. His growing independence terrifies and delights me.
Despite my pride I already feel the pull to bring them in and squeeze them tight. I want to hold on to both of my sons now, while they both need me so desperately. As independent as they both already are, I’m still their Mommy. They come running or crawling to me with all their needs. I can’t stand the idea that one day, I won’t be able fix all their problems.
I never realized that being a parent would fill my heart so much that it breaks a little. With each new milestone I feel pride, tinged with a little mourning at my children taking one more step towards adulthood. I know that no matter how hard I squeeze and press them to me, there is no slowing their speeding growth.
At the same time, I’m always on a countdown, waiting for it to be time for the next activity, meal or sleep so that I can check out for a bit. It’s exhausting to be needed, especially now when there are so few outlets.
One of the few things we can do out of the house with the playgrounds closed is head to the old cemetery that doubles as a dog park down the road. My husband and I take the boys and our dog there after dinner most nights to let them get some energy out before bed. My toddler loves to run through the headstones as he screams for me to chase him, his knees raised high with each stride in his toddler gait, giggling wildly.
It always strikes me as I run after him how many children are buried there. Most of them are tragedies more than a hundred years past, but not all. On one trip my son tried to take a toy car that looked brand new from a gravestone of another 2-year-old who died in 2004. As scared as I am of my sons growing up and not needing me, I can’t fathom them not having the opportunity to do so.
I’ve heard that “the unknown” is life’s greatest fear, but that’s a lie. I know exactly what my greatest fear is. It’s to join the chorus of moaning mothers who have buried their child.
Before my sons were born, I had a miscarriage, and I didn’t know if I’d make it out from under the grief. I will always carry the weight of knowing that baby was there, then gone. I imagine losing one of my boys would leave me a living ghost.
I’m so grateful to live in an age and a place where it is uncommon to lose a child. For most of human history, and even in much of the world today, that hasn’t been the case.
No matter how exhausting it is to have my oldest pulling at me, crying, as I nurse the baby, with them both needing me so urgently, the idea of the alternative is infinitely worse. No matter how much I wish I could pause their growth, I’m thankful that they’re growing.
Throughout quarantine I’ve tried to practice grace, giving myself and those around me some extra leeway because we’re all struggling. I know I can’t stop my boys from growing up, but sometimes, when they crawl into my lap, I’ll indulge the urge to hold on. I’ll squeeze them tight, knees to chest, and we’ll all revel in the perfection of their youth.