I could always count on his chubby cheeks, and the sweet pudge beneath his t-shirt. My baby, my youngest.
And then, one morning, he was all bones and muscle, his jeans barely resting on his hipbones. His face thinned out, and the last, fleeting whisper of baby was gone.
He reads–now in two languages. He gets grades, and loses teeth, rides a bike, and plays Minecraft. And yet I held onto the fiction of my youngest, the idea of him.
But the reality is, we aren’t there anymore.
We are on the other side of childhood, which has many perks–they sleep in, pour their own bowls of cereal, and Thomas the Tank Engine is not a part of my life.
They resist hugs, or mumble instead of looking you in the eye. They are rough, call each other names occasionally, and talk much more loudly than necessary.
And therein lies the grace. Loving my children is a choice. And here, on this other side of childhood, the people are there. The running coach who looks my oldest in the eye, and makes a point of inviting him to events. The mothers and friends who talk me down in my frustrations, “Cosas de ninos,” they say, “Normal. No pasa nada.”
The teachers who force them to be better than they appear, and the mothers who ask them questions, and listen to their responses.
I appreciate their love because it comes a little less naturally. They see the men they will be, and the babies they were.
And I love them for it.