“I’m too old for that, Mom,” my youngest son said when I suggested a game of pretend play we enjoy together.
“But you weren’t too old for it yesterday,” I said. It was true; literally just yesterday we’d played the game, giving different voices to stuffed animals and deeming them good or bad guys.
“Well, I’m too old for it today,” he declared.
I felt a pang. Believe me, there have been times, in fact just yesterday, when I’ve become bored and restless with the hostage situation that pretend play often becomes. The constant “Mom can you play with me,” and “No, keep playing,” when I so much as go to the bathroom can be wearing. Yet was this the last time? Was pretend play really ending? Although I enjoy spending time with my children and I’m fairly good at enjoying the moments, seizing the day, and all that, pretend play can become monotonous. The pressure to entertain is real. Some part of me has been waiting for this day – the day my children didn’t crave quite so much pretend play. Even my eleven-year-old will still occasionally humor me with Mrs. Antbottom – a game I invented when he was five. It’s infrequent now, though. But we’ve found other ways to connect. We watch shows together, have long talks, and make videos. With E, though, I thought I had more time. I mean, he’s eight.
As our children grow, we pay a lot of attention to the firsts – first smile, first steps, first day of school. Living with autism, E’s first are that much more hard won and celebrated. The lasts, though; the lasts I’ve never been prepared for. Often, I don’t even see them coming, but it’s usually long before I’m ready. The last time I nursed E, I didn’t know to savor each little swallow and his little fist against my skin. I didn’t dwell on the solid weight of him in my arms. If I’m being truthful, I was probably distracted. That’s normal. But, oh, I wish I’d know. I wish I’d lingered – stared into his little face. I didn’t know it would be the last time I’d nurse him. I didn’t know it would be the last time I’d nurse, period. In fact, I assumed he wouldn’t be my last baby. Three miscarriages followed after E, and we finally decided we were content with two.
I’ve made peace with this decision, I think. Most days, I think I have. Still, every one of E’s birthday brings with it an onslaught of bitter-sweet emotion, because each birthday is a last. December 10th, 2020 was the last time we’ll celebrate an eighth birthday. For some reason, I didn’t expect the strong emotions arriving on the eves of birthdays.
E is growing more independent each day. This is a cause for celebration for a neurotypical child, but there’s an extra level of elation when a child is neurodiverse. I’d be lying, though, if I said growing pains don’t come with levels of loss. Last week when I picked E up from his homeschool co-op I ran into the building to use the bathroom.
“Oh my gosh, Mom,” he said when we got to the car, “why’d you come in the building? That was super embarrassing.”
My thought was, already? It seems like just yesterday I couldn’t leave the house without peeling toddlers from my leg, driving away with guilt even though I knew they’d be fine. Just yesterday I’d get an extra-long hug and a wiped away tear at school drop off. Now, he’s embarrassed by me. Normal? Yes. Easy? No.
At Christmas, he wanted every Hot Wheels set ever invented. Now, he plays with them less and less. Is pretend play really coming to an end? Maybe he was just having a “too cool for school” day. Maybe he really is moving on. It happens, even if it is sooner than I accepted. It’s not that he needs me less that’s hard; it’s that he wants me less.
I won’t be the sweet grandma in the grocery store warning you to “enjoy every moment”. It’s not possible, in parenting. I will say that slowing down the precious moments is like harnessing the wind. Sometimes they seem endless – until they’re in our rear-view mirror. While we’re busy focusing on the firsts, let’s allow ourselves both celebration and nostalgia when the lasts come.
I know as E grows, I’ll continue to celebrate his milestones. He’s my last baby, so I’ll also cling that much harder to his lasts. Still, I’m excited to witness the person he’s becoming, even if my stuffed animal voices have been downgraded to “cringy” category. He’ll come back around, and as he grows, we’ll find new ways to connect and spend time together. The lasts will come, but I have to remind myself that every last is a new first.