Okay, not really. She’s still only eight months old. But Miss M, one of her daycare workers, observed last week after watching our little one sit up unaided in her crib: “She’s growing up too fast.” You hear this a lot regarding kids these days, but usually people who say this mean “growing up” to be equivalent with losing a sense of innocence or freedom from responsibility as the world of adult concerns creeps into a child’s consciousness and they begin to see the world in the varied shades of gray and gloom that we adults wish we could be free from. Since my little girl has yet to learn how to talk, much less reason abstractly, I think it’s safe to say she isn’t precociously developing adult perspectives about the morally ambiguous world around her. No, I think when Miss M said that our baby was growing up too fast, she was referring solely to her physical development – quite literally, “growing up” means growing.
Of course, from a pediatric development standpoint, our baby is definitely not growing too fast: she’s growing right on schedule. She’s cutting teeth on time; she’s eating solid foods at the right moment; she’s learning to crawl and sit up at roughly the same time as all developmentally appropriate children her age do. This is good news; it means she’s healthy and getting the care and sustenance she needs.
So Miss M was not making a statement about child development or prematurely adult experience. Miss M wasn’t really making a statement about our little girl at all. Miss M was making a statement about herself – and, by extension, about all of us as parents who feel our heads spin at how fast time moves forward. I mean, she’s not even a year old yet, but the child who lives in our home is already a completely different child than the child we brought home from the hospital. She smiles and laughs, she plays and talks to herself, she can roll around and sit up without any help or prompting, she can even defend herself from her parents’ unwanted and annoying incursions towards her nose with tissues and suction bulbs. What happened to the helpless blob of pink flesh we had back in June? That cute little indistinguishable human face with the perpetual look of confusion and bewilderment? The gossamer miniature fingers that grasped at air and occasionally flung about in complete surprise to their owner? The shrill and pitiful squeak that escaped that mouth at moments of hunger or need? Those things are gone; she has grown out of them. She is capable of nuanced facial expressions, keeping her parents constantly on their toes as to how to read and interpret her changing moods. She has such fine control over her hands now that she feels the need to show off and grasp everything – Every. Thing. – that comes within her reach. And she has a vocal range that would impress any primatologist, capable of varying her range and pitch and volume with such distinction that we can distinguish her moods (or not) based solely on how she sounds over the baby monitor. She is growing, and fast.
Too fast? Not really. But it sure feels that way. Just when we’ve figured something out, she grows out of it. We had the sleeping thing down, my friends – swaddled and cuddled, and then she was out for the night. But by the time we’d figured that out, suddenly her legs were too long for the swaddling blanket and she could free herself, like a tiny Houdini, and roll herself over like a turtle. And there we are, her mother and I, thinking, who is this? What happened to my baby that I could swaddle and rock straight to sleep? Which is then followed by the thought, What the hell do we do now?
That’s parenting in a nutshell: What the hell do we do now? Change is occurring far faster in our lives now than it has occurred for me since, well, since I can remember. Every week – sometimes every day – is something new. Change is happening all the time. She just grows so damn fast.
Parents have been telling me to enjoy it. They’ve been telling me it goes fast. And I believed them, I guess, because my own life has seemed like that at times. I mean, my new doctor is younger than I am, and when I first met her, I thought, how is this possible that she could be younger than and a doctor? Oh, that’s right, I’m older than I used to be. So yeah, I believed that one day I would wake up and think, where did the time go? But this soon? That’s kind of a surprise. And upon reflection, I realize that it isn’t even so much that time goes by fast, as much as that it just never stops.
I can remember pulling my lovely spouse’s car up to the curb at the hospital and helping her up out of the wheelchair as she carried our beautiful one-day-old daughter in her arms. I strapped our little girl into the car seat, helped my dear wife buckle herself in, and then I climbed into the driver’s seat and we were off. It doesn’t feel like we’re speeding, but the scenery is constantly changing and there’s no pulling off to the side for a picnic. I just have to enjoy it as we pass it because then it’s gone. On to the next thing, and once we’ve figured that thing out, then it’s on to the next. That’s what growth is, I suppose.