In October my eldest son Declan will turn four years old. Declan can’t wait for his birthday. He loves birthdays and, in a related development, he really, really loves presents. I, on the other hand, am dreading Declan’s fourth birthday because it feels like on that most arbitrary of days, Declan will officially not be a baby anymore. Of course it could be argued that he hasn't been a baby in a while but four nevertheless seems like an unmistakable dividing line separating babies/toddlers and small children.
This is, of course, only the latest in an endless stream of developmental milestones, each taking Declan from one stage to another. Not too long ago he passed two other major milestones when he was potty-trained and stopped drinking from bottles. Those were both big and a little bit bittersweet, even as I realized that there are certainly positive elements in your child no longer soiling themselves regularly.
I have a hard time dealing with change. When I love something the way I love my son, unconditionally and with my whole heart and soul and every fiber of my being, I want the things that I love to stay the same, to remain in the form I know and adore.
Declan was a fantastic baby. The best, really. When Declan was a baby I first realized that being a father would be the most satisfying and important thing I would ever do, and would fill me with a sense of pride and belonging I never imagined possible. I fell in love with being a dad when Declan was just a baby.
My wife and I decided to have a second child in no small part because we loved the experience of being parents to a newborn baby so much that we wanted to experience it again, knowing full well that it would make our lives infinitely harder, more complicated and much, much more expensive.
It’s a big trade-off being a parent. You give up independence and autonomy in exchange for being part of something bigger than yourself, something that completes you even as it exhausts you, that expands your world and makes you a fuller, better person. Parenthood demands so much of you but in my case at least, it’s given even more.
Now, I am not overjoyed by everything about the developmental stage Declan is currently at. I am not happy that his default volume is currently at the “Deafeningly, inexplicably loud” level or excited that he’s now obsessed with wrapping all of his belongings in layer upon layer of tape (tape that, as a dad, I feel I must remind him and also the rest of the world, is exceedingly expensive, as is everything he does not use sparingly) and turning them into "presents."
Change is scary. I worry that as Declan gets older our relationship with change and devolve, that the ease and comfort and joy I feel spending time with my son will be replaced with different, more complicated and difficult emotions. I worry that he’ll lose his infectious sense of joy and stop vibrating with excitement and enthusiasm over anything and everything. I worry that the deliriously happy baby and toddler will mature into a young man who has inherited his father’s Depression and pessimism regarding the fundamental essence of human nature.
Part of me wants to freeze time, to make time stop, to keep Declan at this age forever but that wouldn’t be fair to him or to me. Because I know that whatever lies ahead will be wonderful when it comes to Declan and that it’s my sacred duty as his father to help him weather whatever emotional storms may come.
For all his imperfections, Declan is perfect right now, at least as far as I’m concerned. It’s inevitable that he’ll change with time and experience but that does not have to mean that my love for him has to change at all.
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