Jacob, my oldest, is on the second floor of his school this year. Fourth grade. 22 steps above the primary grades. Not on the same floor as the kindergarteners anymore. He’s on a different level now, both literally and figuratively. Fourth grade is the beginning of the intermediate grades. Intermediate — in the middle. Jacob and his classmates are in the middle of childhood. Nine years old, they are halfway to 18. Halfway through grade school.
And while I understand the whole point of parenthood is to help your child grow and develop — this is what God intends — I’m still getting used to being the mom of a larger-sized kid. Jacob’s clothes aren’t cute and tiny anymore and haven’t been for some time. I could wear his t-shirts if I wanted. (Yes, if I wanted to constantly walk around with large numbers on my back and chest.) If his feet continue to grow at their current rate, I should be able to fit into his shoes in a few months. Already, I have mistaken his black dress pants for cropped pants of my own; I hung them in my closet and only realized my error when I began to put them on and they stopped suddenly at my hips.
Jacob is still a good ten inches shorter than I am, and I easily have forty pounds on him, but my days of being the expert at everything are clearly numbered. This summer, I had to admit that he is better than I in baseball. If I were to be completely honest, I would acknowledge this might have been true as many as two years ago, and quite certainly one, but this summer was the first summer I thought about it.
We went to a park one afternoon, and I stood on the pitcher’s mound, Jacob’s sometime-position in little league, and I pitched to him. It looked so easy when I watched him from the stands, but as I struggled to get the ball over the plate, I apologized to my son for making him wait so long for a decent pitch.
“That’s okay, Mom,” he said. “You pitch pretty well, for a writer.”
My child was giving me qualified encouragement that I was doing okay. I wasn’t doing as well as him, of course — who would expect that? He wore the numbers. He was the baseball player. I was the mom. And the writer.
And though I knew Jacob’s assessment of the situation was accurate, somehow in my mind, it wasn’t possible that Jacob could be better at baseball than me — after all, I was the one who taught him how to hold a bat in the first place. I was the one who pitched the enormous white whiffle ball directly at his fat red bat when he was a toddler, willing the ball to stop in mid-air so he could make contact. I called it a hit, even when it would more accurately be called a pitch that tapped the bat. And now he is better than me. Much better.
I told my friend Eric, who has a two-year-old, that the day is coming when his daughter will be better than him at something.
“It’s already here,” he said. “She can dance better. She has more rhythm.”
I look at Jacob and know baseball is just the beginning of a long list of things he will one day do better than I. If early childhood was for learning basic skills, middle childhood is for refining those skills. And while one side of my heart cheers wildly for Jacob as he conquers long division, the strike zone, and increasingly adult-looking novels, the other side of my heart wants to freeze time. For the middle of childhood — age nine — is so clearly the beginning of something big. And I have learned from babyhood on that beginnings are fleeting. I am afraid that middles may be fleeting, too.
He’s on the second floor this year. Halfway through grade school. Halfway through childhood. A tall, skinny kid with a huge appetite, a big smile and talents neither of us knows about yet.
I’m running to keep up.