It’s the clothes that usually get me.
One moment, they’re new: just slightly too big, with space for them to grow into. Then, the next, they’re too small, with trousers rising up above the ankles and t-shirts that are stretched over long arms.
Every time I pack away a set of clothes, I think, he’ll never be that small again. I’m coming to realise that parenting is an endless paradox of mourning for the past and looking towards the future.
I’ve seen it most this week in Ben. Now aged 3 and 8 months, all the things that I encouraged him to do when Samuel was born, are now second nature. He stays in bed until the sun clock comes up, every day. He gets himself dressed and takes himself to the toilet. He opens up the car and climbs in and out. He doesn’t need me for any of these things – and I’m so proud of him.
He’s become very aware of who his friends are, and what he wants to do. He has decided that he doesn’t really like playing with girls anymore – “Except the girls next door. They’re the only girls I like, Mummy.” He has, and has always had, a marked preference for toys and games which are decidedly boyish: anything that involves transport, superheroes or guns (or preferably all three together) is the order of the day.
He’s inherently curious, and I find myself discussing all kinds of things with him, trying to answer his questions: “Why can’t I see my blood?” “Where is Jesus?” “Are there lots of other worlds?” I try to answer him as clearly as I can, but sometimes, he’s entering a level of either philosophy or fantasy that I just can’t reach.
For a while now, he’s been fascinated by numbers. This is starting to extend into letters, which I’ve definitely tried to encourage. While I’m sure he’ll be ready for school in September, the fact that he’s an August-born boy is never far from my mind. So on Friday morning, when I came downstairs from putting Samuel down for a nap, I was so happy to see him happily tracing letters in one of his activity books.
It’s the first time he’s done something like this without prompting.
But, like the clothes, this made me feel a bit sad. Once he masters his letters and numbers, it’s another sign that he’s growing up, and he needs me a bit less. With every step towards their independence, there’s a step away from their dependence. It’s a paradox, and I know it’s the way it should be, and, while I’m so thrilled and excited to see him growing up, I know I also need to treasure and store up my memories of where he is, and where he has been.
He’ll never be this little again.