I picked Riley up from school the other day and while I was waiting in the hall before the bell rang he came skipping out of his classroom with a lanky brown-haired girl. They raced towards the cafeteria together, on a mission to bring back the lunchboxes, and I saw him reach out and fumble to take her hand. She hesitated, but gripped him amiably for a bit before they let go to swing their arms in a fist-pumping burst of speed.

He can be a loud boy, an obnoxious boy, occasionally a rude and selfish boy—but oh, he can be as tender as the milky base of a grass stem.

At seven years old he doesn’t have any idea that some kids might not want to hold hands and I felt a confusing whoosh of loving him so much for that gesture and being terrified that the girl would mock him for it. Jesus, this age of big-little is filled with so many new things and I have chastised him, sometimes, for his tenderness, for weeping over small wounds or being afraid of movie scenes or whatever it is. Grow up, I’ve snapped.

I finished Rick Bragg’s The Prince of Frogtown last night. It’s a memoir inspired by Bragg’s relationship with his ten-year-old stepson, and towards the end, he writes,

The little boy started to fade, just like we left him in the sun too long. (…) He had been a ragamuffin, hurled into space by the seat of his pants. Suddenly, he shopped for shirts, and worried about his hair. He got too heavy to throw. (…) He turned twelve, then thirteen, and then the little boy just disappeared.
Just when you start to get used to it, to not minding it so much, it all vanishes, and the little boy you launched in the air stands at your shoulders like a man, and when you turn to say something you find yourself looking right into his eyes.
He is not helpless, not needy.
He is everything I rushed him to be.

Do you know how sometimes you read something, and it’s like the air in the room grows heavy? Like something you can touch, like you’re held fast by the words. I felt that way, last night. My god.

He is everything I rushed him to be.


88 Responses to “It all vanishes”

  1. Maggie on September 20th, 2012 10:48 am

    Shit, tearing up at the office because we are so close to the edge with my oldest. He is 9.5 and already the little boy has mostly gone. He won’t hold my hand (or really anyone’s hand), he acts tough if he hurts himself in front of his friends, he is independent. But, he still wants me to lie in bed with him for a few minutes at night, he sits near me on the couch when we read, he is tender with his 3 YO sister. My heart is already breaking for the time in the near future when he won’t want these things. Damn, I want my kids to be independent and grow up but mourn what is lost at the same time.

  2. Jennie on September 20th, 2012 10:50 am

    I don’t look to be alone, crying at work as I am. We are only having one child (at least I think) and I keep thinking, but wait, we have to have a dozen kids so they never grow up. Then I remember that they would all grow up. They always grow up.

    Stupid fucking time.

  3. H on September 20th, 2012 10:53 am

    My baby boy was home last night for a brief meal. He’s 24 and has a “real job” now. I miss him so much and I wish I’d had more patience with him during the challenging times (there were plenty) and I wish I had focused more intently on the fun times. I know the struggles of moms during the years the kids are young, but I do wish we all had a flash-forward opportunity to see a day when they’re grown so we’re more driven to focus on enjoying our children when they’re young.

  4. Rebecca (Bearca) on September 20th, 2012 10:59 am

    I also have a 7-year old, and I cried at this. Wow.

  5. kristin on September 20th, 2012 11:32 am

    That confusing woosh/big-little age lasts SO FREAKING LONG.

  6. Amanda Brown on September 20th, 2012 11:47 am

    Goosebumps all over from this and tears pricking the backs of my eyes. Wow.

  7. sal on September 20th, 2012 12:15 pm

    Heavy air up in here, no doubt. Wow.

  8. Redbecca on September 20th, 2012 12:31 pm

    Beautiful, Linda, as always. Mine is in the midst of a developmental skydive (it’s too big to call it a “leap”) and see the toddler in him disappearing daily. Thank you for the reminder that while I’m excited to see him reach new heights, I should savor the young innocence he still has.

  9. simon on September 20th, 2012 12:39 pm

    Wombat wanted a pink watch instead of a blue one, and this post’s take-home message is exactly why I bought it for him.

    In my brain, I thought: “Wanna wear pink? Go ahead, wear pink. Someday the other boys will make fun of you, and you’ll stop. Until then, have at it, kid. Be happy.”

  10. rebecca on September 20th, 2012 1:32 pm

    Well thanks, I’m crying at work now.

  11. Emily on September 20th, 2012 1:46 pm

    Yeah, stop making me CRY, Linda. Rick Bragg too. Stupid, wonderful, absofuckinglutely right Rick Bragg.

  12. Kris on September 20th, 2012 2:32 pm

    Oh, that piece from The Prince of Frogtown has me unabashedly weeping.

  13. Amy N on September 20th, 2012 3:17 pm

    Yikes…I need to get that book. My 10 yo son is about an inch and a half from looking me in the eye. Some days he still needs his mama…and others he is filled with confidence and big ideas and so not my little baby anymore. I can’t wait to see all that he becomes, but I also want to freeze time and enjoy everything in this moment, not let him get any bigger.

  14. jen on September 20th, 2012 5:49 pm

    So touching and beautiful. This is going to stick with me for a long while as I parent my girls.

  15. Maura on September 20th, 2012 6:04 pm

    Formed a lump right in my throat. My two boys are 18 and 19. They are everything I rushed them to be.

    It seems so endlessly slow in the beginging…and then in an instance it goes at lightening speed and you yearn just to slow it down.

    Beautifully written Linda.

  16. Mindy on September 20th, 2012 6:39 pm

    Thank you. Please keep your life changing, eye opening, stop you and shake you posts coming.

  17. NancyJ on September 20th, 2012 6:46 pm

    My son turned 22 in July and I can’t believe he is the same baby, the same little boy.
    “he faded away” – he did. His face is thinner, his smile is bigger, but his kisses are constant and his hugs and kindness have remained the same.
    I can’t see that little boy in his face anymore but I know it’s still him.

  18. Ali V on September 20th, 2012 7:24 pm

    Beautiful. I teared up and my little boy is only 6 months. And where did those months go? They disappeared somewhere between my complaining about lack of sleep. God.

    You’re really an excellent writer Linda – such a gift for analogy and description. That last paragraph killed me.

  19. Joel on September 21st, 2012 2:33 am

    As a 28 year old boy who was (I think) a lot like Riley when I was younger… I don’t know exactly where I was going with this.

    But I just emailed a link to this article to my own mama, because I wanted her to know that I’m still her little boy. And always will be. Trust and believe that someday, when they’re past the teenage years, they’ll “get it.” Every moment you agonized over swimming lessons or holding hands, they’ll appreciate. I know I do with my parents.

  20. ememby on September 21st, 2012 6:10 am

    Seriously – so good – so perfectly capturing what it is to raise a kid and push them and suddenly realize they are there and feel that heartbreak (and still the accomplishment) all at the same time. Saved it in my feed reader just so I could come comment this morning. Loved it.

  21. Recommended Reading | ememby on September 21st, 2012 7:03 am

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  22. threewildthings on September 21st, 2012 9:52 am

    How sweet is @Joel’s comment above? Awww.

    Beautiful post. You nailed raising boys perfectly (or kids, for that matter). That passage from the author about his step-son made me all weepy. Especially since the eldest of my three sons turned seven today and I wrote about him this morning and I got all reflective. It made me realize seven is such an awkward, in between age. Part little boy, part big boy. It must be tough for them to straddle two worlds like that, with the weight of everyone’s expectations on their shoulders.

    Thank you for this. Your post is a great reminder to let them stay little as long as they can. To just let them be boys, until they aren’t anymore.

  23. Lori on September 21st, 2012 11:34 am

    This made me cry! I feel ya, sister.

  24. Lisa on September 21st, 2012 5:57 pm

    Ugh, that made me cry. Mine little boy is 14 and I just want time to stop. Thank you for sharing.

  25. Amalah on September 21st, 2012 8:53 pm

    The air got so heavy when I read that quote that I literally could not breathe there, for a minute. Whoa.

    Slow down, self, you fucking asshole. Enjoy them! God.

  26. Katie on September 22nd, 2012 5:25 pm

    Tears…and my little girl is only 1.5…

  27. Nikki on September 23rd, 2012 9:51 am

    Linda…OmG, I’m bawling. This just slammed me..my sons are 18, 16 and 15 now and I swear that’s exactly how it happened. I hope you don’t mind if I link this on my FB?

  28. Olivia on September 23rd, 2012 10:09 am

    Damn it, now I’m crying. I tell my girl to chill out a lot when she’s crying over nothing (to me). Then I try to remember she’s 3 and everything is a BIG thing to her.

  29. MEP on September 24th, 2012 10:28 am

    It’s so true, my baby is ten now and sometimes, it seems to me, practically a grown woman. I wish I hadn’t hurried her so much either, especially since the growth required to get her there comes from heartaches, disappointments, mean words, and thoughtless actions we wish we could protect her from, as much as the joys and accomplishments.

  30. jodie on September 24th, 2012 7:07 pm

    Ahhh Joel’s comment made me cry even more than I already was.

  31. Rosie on September 24th, 2012 8:03 pm

    I keep coming back to this. Linda – thank you. I have said “yes” to the goofiness, random requests, and messes more these last few weeks because of this. I keep thinking – someday I WILL miss this (10,7,3). Thank you.

  32. Mary Clare on September 25th, 2012 9:10 am

    Such a condundrum, parenting is. We want to cherish our babies and hold those chubby hands. Yet, the needs for those wonderful kids life expand and take up all of a parent’s resources. And by growing up they give us a bit of our space and time again. And then our lives feel empty without them.

  33. Tammy on September 25th, 2012 1:54 pm

    “Show me the boy of seven, and I will show you the man”

    I think it’s safe to say he’s gonna be an awesome man.

  34. Staci on September 26th, 2012 9:06 am

    I have daughters, not sons… and still this brought tears to my eyes.

  35. Time Flies | whoorl on September 26th, 2012 11:31 am

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  36. Heather M. on September 30th, 2012 1:28 am

    This is my favorite Linda writing. The excerpt brought more than a few tears to my eyes (which now have to look up to look at Zac). Thanks for sharing.

  37. Alison on October 1st, 2012 1:33 pm

    Led here by Five Star Friday.

    Such a beautifully written piece. My son is nearly 13. I see glimpses of the man he is becoming and wonder where the little boy has gone. Then he goofs around or, like someone said above,wants to sit together on the sofa and he’s little again.

  38. Crystal on October 1st, 2012 5:00 pm

    Awwwww! This is such a wonderful piece! While it is exciting to see them grow, it is also bittersweet. I wish they would stay little longer. If only we could bottle the babyness. :)

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