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.
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?