Most boys Ryan’s age are motivated by the all-powerful “Big Boy” label.
Like, “well, BIG boys put their own shoes on…” or “only BIG boys can carry their own glass of milk; are you a BIG boy?!”
It’s a way to nudge them toward independence, to encourage them to try to do things for themselves, to help them feel pride when they accomplish something that only a “big” boy or girl can do.
Ryan, however, finds no motivation in this. He likes that he is small, that we are big. He has no interest in proving he is big; in fact, he gets angry if you suggest he is growing up in any way. God forbid you predict he’ll someday be all grown up or – worse – big and strong like Daddy. Those words can send him into a tailspin.
He doesn’t want to grow up to be bigger, he insists. He wants to grow up to be a small big boy.
It’s endearing and confusing at the same time.
When I was a kid, I remember always wanting to grow older. I wanted to be old enough to go to school. Old enough to get my ears pierced. I wanted to be 10 (double digits!). Then I wanted to be 13 (teenager!). Then 16, 18 and 21 all sounded pretty good for obvious reasons. I was always looking forward to the next stage, the next level of independence.
Ryan, however, is content to stay just as he is. Light enough that we can still carry him occasionally if he gets tired on his feet. Short enough that his little hand has to reach up to hold mine in the parking lot. Small enough that I can still playfully cradle him like a baby and rock him back and forth as he squeals with joy.
It’s a good thing he can’t see what I see. The way his little legs keep getting longer and longer. How the pants that fit him so perfectly in the fall are creeping up toward his ankles. The way the heft of his hand fills mine up so much more than it used to. That he’s about two pounds away from me not being able to pick him up at all. That he looks undeniably ludicrous being rocked like a baby.
For the longest time, when I peeked in on Ryan at night after he’d fallen asleep, I would marvel at how babyish he looked as he slept. The face of a kid with so much sass and spunk during the day easily transformed into one of an innocent baby when his eyes closed, as if sleep magically transported him from three years old to one year old.
Lately, though, I’ve been marveling at the opposite. The way his height is filling up the length of his bed, the way his serious expression hints that he may be working out some big kid issues, like fear or anxiety, as he dreams.
Whenever we’re walking through a crowded public place, Ryan inevitably looks behind him as he walks, oblivious to all the folks darting out of his line of path. I smile apologetically at them and call out to him, “Watch where you’re going, Ry, not where you’ve been.”
I mean it literally, of course, but I think it’s a good figurative lesson, too. I don’t want him to mourn the fact that he isn’t a baby anymore or fear what’s to come. I want him to be able to look forward to the exciting things ahead of him, to embrace the fact that he’s growing more independent every day.
Then again, another part of me thinks maybe he has the right idea. That there is no reason to rush any of it. He’s only a small big boy for such a brief time, after all. If he wants to linger there a little bit longer, I will slow down with him and soak it in.
I’ll just try to ignore the fact that those pants keep getting shorter and shorter.