Last February I started reading Santa Claus: The Tooth Fairy, and Other Stories: A Child’s Introduction to Religion. It reads like a textbook, but that’s not why I haven’t finished it. It’s not even a long book. I got this feeling when I started reading it, like it was going to change my life. It’s an atheist’s guide to talking about religion with kids. But what if it doesn’t have the answers I’m looking for? I’m afraid to finish it. And I need to be in the right mood when I do read some it. So I’m progressing through it very slowly. And I’ll probably need to re-read it as soon as I finish because it’s been a little disjointed.
But one thing that I have taken away from the book so far is “the story of growing up.” I didn’t even realize until reading this book that this is even a story that we tell our kids. Growing up is scary. Getting old and dying is even scarier. And yet it’s something that we all have to face as mortal beings. So we start to introduce it to our kids in the form of a story. We celebrate the milestones: walking, talking, starting school, losing a tooth, etc. And we talk to them about the big changes that are coming up.
Christopher will be starting Kindergarten in the fall, and we’ve been talking about him going to real school since we moved almost three years ago. We’ve been hyping up Kindergarten (and so have the bigger kids at daycare), and he’s so excited. It’s helping him deal with things like taking on more responsibility for himself. He doesn’t like wiping his butt when he poops, but he knows he has to do it all on his own at Kindergarten. So he’s beginning to do it himself. I don’t get called into the bathroom every time he poops anymore. And hopefully soon the poop stains on his underwear will stop.
We’ve also talked to him about losing teeth. The magic of the Tooth Fairy makes that more fun, but it’s essentially another part of the story of growing up. Christopher’s cousin, Cece, who’s 3 months older, just lost her first tooth about a month ago, so that’s made it even more real. He has his first loose tooth, which is barely lose, but again…big excitement!
The car provides lots of opportunity to discuss growing up. Christopher has already made the transition from car seat to booster seat, an event he eagerly looked forward to as he turned 4. And now he’s looking ahead to age 8 when he won’t need the booster seat anymore. Then he knows that at age 12 he can sit in the front next to Mommy or Daddy. And finally…at 16 he’ll be able to drive. To him, this is the ultimate. He wants to be a race car driver when he grows up, so he’s already learning the rules of driving. Asking endless questions while we drive around. Why can you make a right turn on red but not a left turn? What does that sign mean? Etc.
Looking even further ahead, we’ve had a lot of opportunity to talk about college and leaving home recently. Our niece graduated from high school this weekend, but we’ve been telling Christopher for a couple of years that at age 18 he’ll go to college for four years. And possibly even graduate school after that depending on what career he picks. I try to explain that he won’t always want to be a race car driver. He disagrees.
Right now he wants to go to college in Kentucky. That’s his favorite state. And he’s used to the idea of living far away from family. I moved to Wisconsin from Buffalo, NY, where my brother still lives. My sister lives near Philadelphia, and my parents live in Florida. Christopher has traveled a lot in his 5 years.
Recently we were watching Home, and when Tip said something about how you’re not supposed to leave your family. Christopher’s response was “yes, you are.” It’s the story of growing up that he’s learned. You turn 18, and you leave home. It breaks my heart, but that’s his reality.
It was mine too growing up. My mother had this poem hanging in her office, and I read it lot when I was in middle school and high school.
Children Are Like Kites
You spend a lifetime trying to get them off the ground.
You run with them until you’re both breathless.
They hit the rooftop.
You patch and comfort, adjust and teach them.
Finally they are airborne…
They need more string and you keep letting it out.
But with each twist of the ball of twine,
there is a sadness that goes with joy.
The kite becomes more distant,
and you know it won’t be long
before that beautiful creature will snap the lifeline that binds you two together
and will soar as it is meant to soar, free and alone.
Only then do you know that you did your job.
I can only hope that Jim and I will do our job as well as our parents did. And I know no matter where Christopher lives when he’s grown up, we’ll remain close. My mother talks to my sister and me at least once a week. But she talks to my brother almost every day. Boys need their moms. Even when they’re grown men.