Six feet tall—with permanent teeth
Nine years ago, when our oldest son Jacob was seven, I wrote a column about his permanent teeth. The infant I used to carry tucked snugly in the crook of my arm is now a kid who runs around at recess with permanent teeth. The thought is startling. I am beginning to realize this growing thing isn’t temporary. It keeps happening. Just when I get used to a new phase of parenting, it ends and turns into something else.
And now Jacob is taller than me. Not the kind of taller where people say, “Wow, could it be that you’re taller than your mom, now? Stand back-to-back, let’s see.” No, that type of taller lasted about four days, until after one long night’s sleep, it seemed, when Jacob woke up six feet tall, but still 120 pounds.
Six-foot Jacob lopes around the house, his long legs striding back and forth over that line between childhood and adulthood. In some ways, he’s simply a larger version of the seven-year-old with the new permanent teeth—he asks permission before taking a second serving of dessert; he needs to be reminded to pick up his towel off the bathroom floor; he’s as excited as the rest of the kids to see his toddler cousins on an upcoming trip. But in other ways, that seven-year-old Jacob is fading fast as I glimpse the man my son is becoming—he keeps his own lifeguarding schedule and drives off to work; he refrains from commenting on how pathetic I am with electronics and simply troubleshoots; he looks into his future and is making plans that have little to do with Bill, me or the rest of the family.
When Jacob was seven, I wrote: While his arms and legs will continue to grow, his two front teeth are as big as they’ll ever be. And it makes me wonder what else about him is permanent. His quiet, thoughtful personality seems pretty well set. He’s not one to grab center stage and I doubt he ever will be.
I was right—Jacob was quiet and thoughtful at seven; he’s quiet and thoughtful at 16; and I am certain he’ll be quiet and thoughtful at 40. It is so strange to go back and read it now. Some parents, who are significantly more organized than I, have well-chronicled baby books and scrapbooks of their children’s lives. We don’t have family photo albums; most of our photos aren’t even printed. They sit in a folder on my hard drive, organized—thanks to iPhoto-- by season and year. But I also have these monthly 800-word pieces of writing that are the window into the mind of a younger mom, of younger kids, and through these pieces of writing, I see where my children and I have been together.
My challenge with parenting has always been to appreciate the now of it. I breastfed my babies with an eye to preventing allergies and childhood sickness. I practiced letters and sounds with my preschoolers so they would be ready to read. I saw the boys’ (and now the girls’) early-grade school mistakes as opportunities to teach important life lessons about responsibility and character. My motherhood has been spent with an intentional approach to shaping my children and pointing them in the right direction. I have had days where I have felt wildly successful at this, and other days where I have felt abject failure, but through it all, I have always mentally flipped ahead the calendar of each child’s life to see where my good or bad parenting of that day might land that child.
And now, for Jacob, all my shaping and pointing are pretty much done. We have 21 months left with him until he leaves for college. While I can see flashes of that seven-year-old with the sprinkling of freckles and new permanent teeth, I know that the rest of the world cannot. The rest of the world looks at my son and says, “This is who you are,” without comment on who he was in the past, or what he might become in the future. And I am learning to do the same. Jacob is smart and funny. He’s interesting to talk to. He beats me in ping pong, but I can give him a good game, and we should play more than we do. We joke about how opposite our personalities are, but we know we have a lot of similarities too-- an affinity for Frisbee, listening to NPR’s This American Life, and reading accounts of near-death experiences. He is my son, but he’s also a person I enjoy living with, and if everything about him now fused permanently, and he didn’t develop beyond where he is, he’d still be in great shape. And that makes it easier for me to live in the now, because I’m not too worried about who he is going to become.
Jacob. Still with those same teeth he had at age seven. Sometimes he comes to me for advice; sometimes I go to him.
I’m 5’7”; he’s six feet. We look up to each other. And I hope that will be permanent.