April 14, 2023

Looking At Our Big Kids, We Still See Our Babies, Too

When I went to my daughter’s senior dance recital a couple years ago, I saw my grown-up dancer. I saw her strong, lovely limbs and her intricate movements. I saw her almost-adult self, moving with confidence and skill across that particular stage for the last time

But I also saw the little girl with bangs and purple glasses in a blue tutu who danced first.

This is how it is, being the parent of older kids: we watch our grown children step into the spotlight and celebrate accomplishments and embrace new seasons, and we take it all in.

But in our mind’s eye, we also see how it all began.

We see them asleep on our couch when they’re home for the weekend or the summer or a holiday…and we also see them asleep in their cribs.

We see them at one of their last check-ups with their pediatrician, legs dangling over the edge of the exam table…and we also see them strapped into their car seat as we carried them in for their first newborn well-check.

We see them wearing clothes close to ours in size…and we also see them wearing tiny onesies and footed sleepers.

We see them dive into the deep end of the pool…and we also see them in beginning swim class, water wings firmly tugged on.

We see them behind the wheel of a car…and we also see them riding their first bike with training wheels.

We see them hit a home run…and we also see them slugging away at t-ball.

We see them laughing with friends at a football game…and we also see them at the park or on the school playground, taking turns on the slide or the climbing wall with other children we hope might become their friends.

We see them play a part or sing a solo…and we also see them in their construction-paper Pilgrim costume, delivering their one line in the class play.

We see them going to prom…and we also see them dancing on our feet in our living room.

We see them standing on a graduation stage in their cap and gown…and we also see them in miniature versions of these, beaming as they grasped their preschool or kindergarten diploma.

We see them walking onto a college campus…and we also see them walking into an elementary school classroom.

We see them stooping down to hug us…and we also see them lifting their arms up to us, wanting to be picked up and carried.

We see them as teachers, artists, mechanics, engineers, fire fighters, nurses, business owners, counselors, cooks…and we also see them playing pretend versions of these, long before "what I want to be when I grow up" became reality.

We see them coming down a wedding aisle…and we also see them dressing up as the bride or groom.

We see them holding their babies in their arms…and we also see them as babes in our arms.

Then, too, we see them in the in-betweens…in the dots that connect the past and present of their lives.

We see them on the nights they couldn’t sleep, when we slept on their bedroom floor in hopes our presence would somehow comfort like an unsung lullaby.

We see them when they took (and failed) their first driving test.

We see them taking a hundred practice swings in the backyard.

We see them taking chances on friendship.

We see them wearing their favorite shirt AGAIN.

We see them at the doctor for emergency stitches after they tipped too far back in their little plastic chair and gashed the back of their head on the fireplace hearth.

We see them smiling proudly the first time they swam all on their own strength (which does not always happen in a pool).

We see them learning their lines and notes.

We see them not being asked to prom.

We see them graduating from sippy cups and booster seats and the children’s menu and the kiddie area at the amusement park.

We see them walking up to someone who looks lonely and easing that loneliness.

We see them lifting us up.

We see them studying and learning how to be…anything.

We see them giving and receiving love.

We see them caring for others.

We see our grown-up babies as they are and as they were, both at the same time. This double vision is one of the profound privileges of parenthood: We know how our children’s stories began, and so we have deeper appreciation for new chapters as they’re written. We turn to fresh pages in their life books — but we still keep a finger in the opening pages, too.

That night, I sat in a darkened auditorium and watched my teenager take a familiar stage for the last time. I saw her as she was in that moment and as she had been a thousand moments that had come before it.

I also saw a glimpse of who she might become. It will be a beautiful sight.

A version of this post first appeared on CollegiateParent.

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I'd love to hear from you! Feel free to tell me what you really think. Years ago, I explained to my then-two-year-old that my appointment with a counselor was "sort of like going to a doctor who will help me be a better mommy." Without blinking, she replied, "You'd better go every day." All of which is just to say I've spent some time in the school of brutal honesty!