My little boys are growing up. Most of the time they are typical 5 and 3 year old boys, racing through the house at top speed blowing whistles or screaming with laughter. Most of the time they are loud and messy, just the way they are supposed to be. But more and more I am beginning to see the men they will one day become. Last month we heard the tiny toddler tell his Daddy that he missed him the night before, when we had left both boys at home with a sitter in order to sneak away for some much needed Beth and Brad time. (It has been so long since someone has called me “Beth” on a regular basis, instead of “Mommy” that sometimes when I hear it I am caught off guard. Are they talking to me?)
And that was quite a milestone for our little guy. Two and three year olds are notoriously selfish and unaware of others around them, but our youngest was even more so. For many months, over a year, we all sort of coexisted in this house. We bonded with our beautiful new son, and we bonded so well that he still screams when I leave him. He wanted to know we were close by, but there were many moments of total frustration as our youngest acted as though we meant nothing to him. He would, and still does sometimes, tell me to leave his room at bedtime, only to scream for me once I was out of his sight. I would come back and he would kick me out again, pointing to the door and saying “Mommy go!”. This is no game. He is not laughing or smiling as he does this. He seems to truly want me to leave, but then is grief stricken when I do. This “I love you I hate you” sentiment has made me somewhat crazy over the past year. Often our sweet little boy would stare at us blankly, or, worse yet, stare at us with hatred in his beautiful brown eyes. He was like a tiny angry visitor, not invested in his new mommy and daddy.
But last month he told Daddy, totally unprompted, that he had missed him the night before. Victory! There’s a glimpse at the little boy we knew was trapped inside the screaming, hitting toddler! And the other day he was the only one of my three men to notice that I not only got my hair cut and colored but that I also had my nails done. “Pretty Mommy!”. Which prompted this long and unnecessary conversation:
Him: “Me color nails?”
Me: “No, sweetie, only mommies color their nails.”
Me: “Because boys don’t color their nails.”
Him: “Why no boys?”
Me: “Uh. Well… girls like the pretty colors, but boys don’t.”
Him: “I like colors. I color nails.”
I’ll spare you the rest of this conversation, which pretty much consisted of me attempting to explain to my very young child why boys don’t paint their nails. Until I finally said this:
Me: “I don’t have any nail polish, so you can’t color your nails.”
Him: “OK mamma!”
I spent a night away from home last weekend and when my tiny toddler saw me the next morning he ran to me, gave me a big hug, and said “I missed you last night, mommy.” He understood that I was leaving, and while he wasn’t happy about it, he accepted that I would return. And when I did, he made sure I knew how much he had missed me, saying it over and over again. My little boy is beginning to understand that he belongs to us and we to him, and that we will always be together, even when we are sleeping in separate towns for the night. He is starting to show his emotions in a positive way. Plus, he complimented my hair, which none of the other boys in my life did. I can see a little bit of the man he will become starting to emerge.
And it’s not just the tiny toddler doing some growing up these days. Our boys just started a new daycare program this week and we managed to be late to pick them up on the very first day. The people over at the Parents of the Year award should be calling any day now. The reason my sweet husband was late was a car accident on the highway that slowed traffic down. That very morning my sweet husband had forgotten something he needed for work and so before dropping the boys off I drove them downtown, where Daddy was hanging out on a street corner waiting for us. There we were, me with the car pulled over to the curb, him bent over with his head in the window. Worst. Pickup. Ever. So my big five year old knew that Daddy worked downtown. And later in the day, when some of his classmates had still not been picked up, he overheard a teacher talking about a car accident on the highway coming from downtown. And then even later, at the dining room table, as we were talking about our days, my big five year old spoke up and told his daddy that he was happy that he was OK because he heard about the car accident and he knew Daddy worked downtown, and he was “just a little worried” that Daddy might have been in that accident. Look at my big five year old caring about what happens to others!
We shield our children from so much. I know I do. My big five year old has a huge heart and is super sensitive, so I am very careful about how much information he receives. But he is out in the world every day, without me. He hears things and sees things and I have no idea how he is internally processing it all. But the other day, at the dining room table, amid the ketchup and the strawberries and the cups of chocolate milk, I saw a glimpse into the man he is growing into. And I couldn’t be more proud.