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Change, Growth, Loss and the Transformation of Babies

I often read blog posts and articles written by mothers who wish their children could stay small and cuddly and cute forever. Watching babies grow often comes with a feeling of gradual and inexorable loss, a feeling that we are losing them every day as babies grow and change into children, teens and adults. It can be a very melancholy thing to think that these sweet, small people will grow up and never be the same as they are now.

All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs. Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, “Oh, why can’t you remain like this for ever!” This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end.
J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

We watched an episode of Caprica a while ago, in which a character presented the possibility of eternal life as a digital avatar. In this situation, greiving loved ones could live forever with their deceased family member by visiting their eternally preserved self in a digital world. I wondered about this very sci-fi scenario. If I could, would I want to preserve a copy of my child at a particular stage in her development? Would having a static copy of a loved one make my loss any easier?

Watching my children grow and change in new and unexpected ways is what makes being their parent such a fascinating and compelling role for me. We revisit old games and find that they’re much easier, more fun, more challenging in different ways. We re-read stories and pick out new and different things in them. We watch old videos and notice that Claire’s speech is much clearer now than it was then. Their features become more refined. Their abilities blossom.

And as my children change, so do I, although perhaps in less dramatic ways. I learn to be more patient, to identify my own quirks and shortcomings so that I can work around them. My priorities shift. I settle into routines for housework and activities that influence my children’s behaviour. In my own process of aging, I’m mellowing out somewhat. My children and I are constantly changing and influencing one another.

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.
Carl Jung
Swiss psychologist (1875 – 1961)

The joy and wonder of development always outstrips the melancholy of losing my babies. Change and transformation is a good, healthy thing in a relationship between any two people. I hope that when I’m old I can look back on photos of this time in our lives and be glad for us in this moment, instead of being sad that the time of small children has passed from my life.

The real sadness and melancholy of children growing up is probably not related to their development at all, but comes directly from our own fear of aging and inevitable death. Grasping at our children’s babyhood won’t change our essential mortality, or theirs.

The only moment we have is now.

Do you mourn these everyday losses? If it were possible to live forever with your child at one stage of development, would you?

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{ 11 comments… add one }

  • mumsyjr March 15, 2011, 6:14 am

    What a beautiful post! I particularly love the quote from Jung. Although, Peter Pan, and in particular that opening paragraph, has always struck a special chord for me. :)
    I once started bawling while I folded my daughter’s laundry (I think she was about two, incidentally) because it dawned on me that, even barring any kind of horrible accident, I was going to lose my very little girl simply from her growing into a bigger girl, and eventually a woman. This was probably the only moment where I ever wanted to clutch her tight to me just the way she was and beat back change. Because the change is so exciting, and because by the time she rises into a new stage we are both SO done with the old one, and because I want to see how the seeds planted in one stage (via her experiences) will bloom in the next.
    mumsyjr´s last [type] ..Pom-poms…they are everywhere…

    • michelle March 16, 2011, 10:08 pm

      It’s true – every time we pass through another “phase” I’m glad to trade in those old issues. 2 year olds are probably the height of human cuteness, but it’s probably worth the tradeoff to lose cuteness and gain communication and reasoning skills.

  • Cynthia March 15, 2011, 11:03 pm

    What a sweet entry. :)

    I find that enjoy my boys more and more the older the get. They just keep getting more fun! I love that I can have real conversations with my older one, and it’s so neat to see my younger one’s personality starting to come through. I actually had a harder time with my younger one for the opposite reason – it was hard to enjoy his babyhood because I was so looking forward to the older stages. I had to be very deliberate in appreciating each stage for what it was rather than just waiting for the more interactive stages.

    But none of that stopped me from tearing up today when I noticed that my older boy was a couple inches taller than our counter. When did that even happen??

    I tried telling him once that he couldn’t grow up. He just laughed at me and told me all boys had to grow up, it would be silly if they didn’t!
    Cynthia´s last [type] ..Attachment Parenting Series- Belief in the language value of your babys cry

    • Cynthia March 15, 2011, 11:04 pm

      Sheesh. Pretend all those typos aren’t there, okay? Thanks.
      Cynthia´s last [type] ..Attachment Parenting Series- Belief in the language value of your babys cry

      • michelle March 16, 2011, 10:04 pm

        also, what typos? Your copyediting eyes are sharper than mine. :)

    • michelle March 16, 2011, 10:03 pm

      I find that I really enjoy hanging out with Bea more and more now. Not that I didn’t enjoy hanging out with her before, but these days she asks really good questions and has very astute observations to make of the world around her. I’ll be a little sad to see her grow out of this magical thinking/ultra playful phase when she gets to be 6 or 7, but then again, maybe I’ll be even more delighted with her 6 and 7 year old self.

  • Rachael March 16, 2011, 9:10 am

    Yes, I mourn all that is lost as the Critter goes; I especially mourn everything that I’ve forgotten, in particular those early months, now a blur.

    But it is the nature of life to change. For example: here comes spring! Let’s not miss it!
    Rachael´s last [type] ..Almost Wordless Wednesday- Work at Home

    • michelle March 16, 2011, 10:05 pm

      Indeed!

  • Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama March 21, 2011, 1:09 pm

    I love that you wrote about this because it is constantly on my mind. I feel like I want to freeze Baby in each stage, and then we get to the next stage and I’m reminded of the beauty of growth and development and life going on in general. I just try to be as present as possible so I can experience and remember each moment to the fullest.
    Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama´s last [type] ..Baby’s Top 10 Ways to Communicate

  • Momma Jorje March 21, 2011, 7:52 pm

    Beautifully said! As much as we all wish we could slow our children down, how much would we, really? I wouldn’t want to keep my Sasha in one stage, pleasant as that sounds. The joy is in watching her grow and develop.

    My older daughter used to say “I can’t wait for her to _______” and I’d always reply that while that would be fun, I was relishing what her little sister was doing NOW.

    Your post also made me think of a recent one I read from Organic Sister:
    Time Flies When You’re Not Having Fun – it has to do with being present in the moment, including and especially with our children.

    • michelle March 24, 2011, 12:07 am

      Thanks for your comment! I enjoyed reading the Organic Sister’s post on time flying – she makes some good points. I think time stretches out when we stretch ourselves and try things that are outside our usual comfort zone, like traveling or learning challenging things that we are really absorbed in.

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