“Mommy, do you want me to be like this forever?”
Hearing my own words come out of my almost-4-year-old’s mouth is entirely too precious. He is willing himself to stay awake long enough for my answer. His arms hold a plastic dinosaur against his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pajamas, and his green-brown eyes are losing their battle against sleep.
I tell him again, “Yes, angel, I do wish I could freeze time so you would stay like this forever.” I kiss him, wish him good night and watch him fall asleep.
If I could do that moment over again, here is what I would say:
Buddy, at almost 4, I know it’s hard for you to understand why the thought of you growing up is so bittersweet.
Being your mommy means I am on a spinning wheel of entering (and sometimes struggling with) a new phase, falling in love with you all over again and then having to let go of that phase to prepare for the next.
These phases come and go so quickly that I feel I can hardly keep up with you. I remember wanting to freeze time when you were just a few days old, then again when you learned how to crawl, how to walk, how to talk, and now again that you are almost 4.
It is not that I don’t want you to have your own life, but rather that I know how quickly my time with the almost-4-year-old you is going to fade. There are so many things I will miss about you at this age:
I will miss your willingness to give me a hug and a kiss no matter where we are and no matter who is around. I keep telling you that, one day, you might not want to kiss me, but you defiantly insist that day will never come.
I will miss watching you get old enough to do certain things: make your own food (messiest peanut butter and jellies EVER), go to the bathroom on your own, walk next to the cart in the grocery store. These are all things for which I constantly tell you, “I’m so proud of you.”
… And I will miss that you are still young enough to repeat those words back to me when I least expect it. “Mom, did you just go to the bathroom by yourself? I’m so proud of you!” “Mom, did you just throw that garbage away? I’m so proud of you!”
I will miss that I can still encircle your bicep with my thumb and middle finger when we cuddle on the couch together. Something tells me that one day I will need both hands.
I will miss that you are old enough to leave tantrums behind but young enough to shed a few tears over losing a toy or missing your grandpa.
I will miss your sweet little voice that before I know it will be deep and booming just like your dad’s. I want to record you talking just so I can play it back one day when I miss the almost-4-year-old you.
I will miss the way you want me and only me when you are hurt. One day, you might turn to someone else for comfort. As happy as I will be that you have someone else in your life who can wipe away your tears, I will long for the days when I was the only person who could make it better.
So yes, my dear little boy, I do wish I could keep you like this forever. To my dismay, I cannot. What I can do is sit with you just a little longer tonight and cherish the fact that I get to know you through all the phases of your life. I love you with everything I have, no matter how old you get.