Sunrise, sunset: Mourning who our children once were, welcoming who they are becoming
“Why can’t you be more like your sister?”
I thought this to myself the day after I brought my newborn home from the hospital. My 4-year-old was freaking out about something, carrying on and on obnoxiously, while my adorable blob of a baby just sat in my arms, sleeping contentedly.
I’ve since come to realize that there’s nothing like having a baby to put time in perspective. The first 4 months of her life went by in a blur, punctuated only briefly by seemingly infinite moments of gazing into my baby daughter’s sparkling blue eyes.
At times, the juggling act of becoming a family of four reminds me of the old riddle about trying to transport a potted plant, a rabbit, and a fox to an island on a canoe that can only hold you and one other thing (spoiler alert: you have to bring something back with you to the mainland). To wit, it’s complicated, and the thing I bring back with me to the mainland is usually the baby and not my older child. I’ve missed her, our one-on-one time telling stories, making bath fizzies, and just passing the time together.
So when I came up for air a minute ago and took a long look at my preschooler, I had a hard time fathoming what I saw. She’s not a cute little peanut anymore. Her legs seem impossibly long. Her once round, chubby face has solidified into a striking, set jawline. She now says things like, “I was like…” and “I’m not going to tell you that.” She asks me, “How was your night? Did you sleep well?” She tells me she doesn’t want to die and asks me if I like myself. She has started calling both me and her dad by our first names.
She’s no longer only my lovable, playful little cherub. Sure, she’s still like that some of the time, but now she’s much more. Her preschool teacher calls it “the fearsome fours.” And fierce she is. My mentor calls age 4 “wild and wooly.” And wild she is.
She’s bold. She sidles up to kids at the playground and says, “My name’s Molly. What’s yours?” She plays with the 5 year olds at school and treats 7 and 8 year olds at the park like celebrities. Whereas not too long ago she identified as a “medium kid”–neither little nor big–she now identifies as just a “kid,” sometimes a “big girl” even.
She’s kind. A week after she had a meltdown at her dance studio’s gift shop, she comforted another girl going through the same turmoil. She pulled me over to the family’s car, gave the tearful girl a hug, and said, “It’s okay to cry. You’ll feel better.”
She’s clear about her boundaries. When I reach out to stroke her curls, she tells me firmly (and more or less politely, depending on her mood) to stop. When I practice my infant massage techniques on her, she tells me if it’s too hard or too soft.
It’s true what they say of parenting; the days are long, and the years are short. In the blink of an eye that it took for my baby to transition out of the haze of the “fourth trimester,” my first baby suddenly grew up.
I officiated and sang at a bas mistve on a recent weekend. As part of my duties, I performed the song “Sunrise, Sunset” from the musical Fiddler on the Roof at the celebrant’s request.
“Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers, blossoming even as we gaze.”Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, Music by Jerry Bock
To my great surprise, when my husband and I returned home, we found a beautiful bouquet of sunflowers selected by my older daughter on her outing to the neighborhood Farmer’s Market. Aside from a cup of strawberry lemonade, this was the only thing she wanted. So badly, in fact, that when our babysitter started to push past the flower stand, my daughter screamed at the top of her lungs, insisting on the purchase.
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers indeed. And oh, how she is blossoming, even as I gaze. I looked away for a mere moment, and I almost missed it.
For additional reading:
- Parent Q&A: When kids prefer one parent, part 2: This time it’s personal
- What love smells like: On bathing with my daughter
- The body beautiful: What my preschooler taught me about loving myself
- Family Is [not] Magic
Rebekka Helford is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Los Angeles, California. With over a decade of experience working with parents and young children, Rebekka specializes in short-term intensive parenting consultation, using a variety of tools including home, office, and school visits to help families navigate developmental hiccups and get back on track.
Click here to schedule an appointment or contact Rebekka with a question – who knows, she might even answer it in her next post!