We live in a time when there is a lot of hurry placed upon our days. We are hurrying to get from one thing to another and hurrying to get to the next milestone. When we had babies it was a series of checklists in What to Expect When You are Expecting. We needed to know if our toddler knew 20 words and could stand on one foot. It was what was expected of them. Before kindergarten we poured over the lists of what skills they need to have: letter identification, recognizing their names written with upper and lower case letters, tying their shoes and using the restroom independently. But as we wait for those milestones, sometimes we feel a competitive push to get our child just slightly ahead of the curve. We’ve all heard it at from another mom at some point “oh, when did you start potty training? We started at birth! He just knew!” (Sidenote: as a mother of 5 potty-trained kids I can tell you that it has been my experience that each kid really does just have a moment when they are “ready”, and that moment is different for them all. I had early potty trainers and those that fell right in the checklist and one that made each day an adventure as to whether she was or wasn’t ready!) There is a competitive aspect to so much of parenting that just doesn’t make sense.
Yesterday at the library my youngest son was playing with another little boy and putting together puzzles. William is a social kid. He believes the world around him is longing for conversation, and he is ready to participate. I frequently have to interject my way into a conversation between my preschooler and adults to make sure he isn’t driving them crazy. But yesterday I overheard the grandmother of the little boy ask Will how old he was and then the MOST BIZARRE conversation occured.
“I’m 3!” he said.
“Are you sure you aren’t 4?”
“Nope. I’m 3.”
“I would guess 4. When is your birthday?”
“It already happened.”
Then the grandmother saw me and asked “How old is he?” as though it hadn’t been covered thoroughly by my son. When I replied that he was, in fact, 3, she asked when his birthday was. I told her December, and a knowing look settled on her face “OH! So almost 4.” Huh? It was June 12th. Now, Will knows his birthday (December 22nd), and he has siblings so he knows when he turns that extra half, so as I walked to the shelf to help Grace pick books and the woman said to Will “So you are really three and half.” I was not surprised when he said “Not yet. I’m just 3.” She would not give it up. Now my “little” guy is tall and a talker, so I can see thinking he may be older, but why was she in such a hurry to dismiss him as a 4-year-old. As she went on to explain to me that her grandson was 2 and reply to my lack of comment with “I know! He’s so big!” It occurred to me: my big son was messing with her idea that her big grandson was remarkably huge. It was such a surreal exchange. But I know we have all done some version of that with our kids. We see their gifts and are in awe of them and so we hurry them along.
As my oldest kids get older and the next milestones become BIG things I am becoming extra thoughtful about how quickly we move on to the next thing. It’s tempting because some of the milestones they will soon be ready for are our favorites as parents, and we want to share them with our kids. We love going to the spa or a favorite slightly mature movie or a hot cup of coffee, and we are eager to share that love with our kids. But as a mom of 5 I am keenly aware of the fact that once you open that door a little it is hard to shut it before a younger sibling scampers through. I have no interest in stunting my children or sheltering them from the world. But I do believe that they have their ENTIRE LIVES to be adults and only this brief minute to be little. And so I think it’s okay for them to wait for things. At our house we wait until 10 for pierced ears. So they will be responsible enough to care from them, but also so there is something fun to look forward to at 10. Our oldest daughter hit 10 and wasn’t ready for piercing. So she continues the wait by her own decision. I think the lesson that just because you are “old enough” to do something doesn’t mean you have to if you aren’t ready is a good one, too. Our 8 year old would go NOW, but she has to wait for 10 and that makes it feel extra special.
This week we celebrated a big milestone for Grace, who is 6 and just finished kindergarten. She was able to get her own library card! She has been waiting since Lily was in kindergarten two years ago to finally be old enough to have a card. The library only requires that kids be 4. But libary cards were a grade school rite of passage that Grace has been looking forward to with her whole heart. And I think it is sort of fun to create those opportunities to look forward with anticipation. As I watched her proudly clutching her library card and scanning her chosen books it brought a special meaning to getting her own card. She was grown up enough to care for and keep track of books. I don’t for one second think there is a a magical age for that, nor do I think library card waiting is critical for child development, but I do think that holding some things as special and waiting to be old enough adds to the fun.
And so my giant 3-year-old will wait for kindergarden for his card. And Lily will wait for her 10th birthday for her earrings, and the oldest kids may be a little behind their classmates in what they are allowed to do, because they are setting precedence for their siblings. And that’s okay. Because we will celebrate the milestones when they happen. Whenever that may be.