It’s no secret that I handle change poorly at best. I’m the one who refuses to clean out my pantry because I won’t be able to find things, cries after breakups not out of loneliness but because my routines change, and slept in my living room for a week after moving out of my studio apartment because the new place felt cavernous. In early sobriety, I heard in a meeting that alcoholics startle easily, and that’s why we don’t like change; for me, though, those things are separate issues. I hate change, and I’ll screech if you scare the bejeezus out of me. These two things are are not character defects, personality quirks I find irritating, or peccadilloes; they are just two of many facts that make me who I am. And I’m usually okay with that.
But today, doing my job (which entails keeping track of everything kid- and parent-related in three of our 50 states), I came across a number of shows coming to Chicagoland this autumn — Backyardigans, Disney on Ice, and The Wiggles — and I remembered a brief conversation I had with Renegade this weekend. “I’m at an odd age,” he said. “I’m too old for kids’ shows and I’m too innocent for teen stuff.” And I laughed it off, thinking that High School Musical and The Suite Life of Zach and Cody would tide him over until his bones are strong enough for me to bring him into the mosh pits reminiscent of my own youth (a year or so down the road), because that’s just life, and I can’t make the tween years any easier for my son than they were for me, and at least (unlike my childhood) he’s got a cool and culturally aware mother, even if he is embarrassed by my snakebite piercings and tattoos at least once a month. And so it isn’t Renegade’s growing-up that has me unsettled today, but, rather, Rebel’s. Because, you see, he’s so far surpassed the mentality of a preschooler that any pretense I had of him ever enjoying innocent, sing-song children’s shows has been completely shattered.
I’m not ready for Rebel to prefer playing chess and building intricate architecturally plausible LEGO models of the Chicago skyline to seeing The Wee Hairy Beasties and Steve Songs live at the Old Town School, or the fact that he wants to learn to play banjo and guitar and accordion and harmonica and grow up to be a one-man band (his latest career aspiration), or his recent tendency to beat-box and rap his responses to simple questions such as “bananas or apples?” while attempting to break-dance. Renegade I can handle growing up because, well, he’s my first-born and that’s to be expected. I don’t know what sort of drugs I’ve been taking — or self-hypnosis I’ve been under — but it never occurred to me that the baby growing up would be more painful than the first one paving the way.
I’ve understood for a while why people love grandchildren so much — all of the fun, none of the mess — but it’s taken me until about 42 minutes ago to realize why anyone would even consider having another baby when the children they have are finally making their way into the world as competent less-dependent creatures. It isn’t so much that I want to revisit the days of sleepless nights and poopy diapers and visits to the ER at 2am because the baby is red-hot and won’t stop crying, but I miss those days — the ones when I could nurse Rebel to sleep and all he needed to be happy and satisfied was snuggling up against me, when I could throw him in a sling and carry him around the neighborhood like a mama kangaroo, when he made the most adorable gurgling laughing sounds ever uttered from a human being, when the absolute goodness and infinite jest of the universe were compressed into a tiny little boy who was one hundred percent mine.
Every day, my children become a little bit less of me and a little bit more of the world, sort of like one of those thought experiments in a college philosophy class where you start with a bit of orange juice and add a drop of water at a time and then pontificate about when the mixture stops being drops of water added to orange juice and starts becoming water with a bit of OJ. This is a big change, I think, and I’m not entirely ready for it. What I do know: even in those thought experiments, no matter how much water you add, the OJ doesn’t go anywhere. And I need to keep that in mind when I find myself startled, or scared by change, or both. Which, as it turns out, may be more than I want to realize. Namaste.