This week, we tore down our son’s crib and set him up in a big boy bed. Which made me realize, the real reason kids seem to grow so fast is because there is nothing we can do to slow it down.
Kids grow up so fast, or so the hoary cliché goes. My experience has differed. Last summer, when my now-two-and-a-half-year-old son Emile could walk but not talk, feels like forever ago, much less the winter before that when he could only crawl himself into trouble or those fall months when he was basically a blob.
See, it’s not that they grow up fast, it’s that they never stop growing. Like, ever. So we invent terminology to try and slow the growth into mentally manageable stages—newborn, baby, toddler, preschooler, etc. Unlike parents, however, children don’t over-think it. They know so little that they just assume every exhilarating day—hell, every exhilarating hour—is a journey bringing them, as the “Paid in Full” remix once put it, “new colours, new dimensions, new values.”
Us parents just want to settle into a groove and enjoy-slash-delay this growing up as much as possible. But that only makes it arrive in surges. We experienced that this past month when Emile “aged” all of a sudden, graduating from his daycare toddler room to the preschool one, having his rear-facing car set turned frontwards and, most momentous of all, dismantling his crib and turning it into a bed. (Yes, these events seem minor to adults, but are positively revolutionary to toddlers.)
We’d been talking about converting the crib for months, but kept putting it off for fear of disrupting E’s routine. Plus, the crib walls were reassuring. Once he was down, we knew precisely where he was. Only once had E managed to escape its confines, and that was more traumatic for us than him. He didn’t hurt himself and though he could get out at anytime, he never did.
We kept his car seat rear-facing until a month or so ago, too, even though we could’ve switched it at 12 months. Rear-facing was safer, and he never complained, so why rock the boat. But maybe also because moving it was also moving him into a new stage. So we waited. When we finally changed it, E acted as if it had always been that way. But the crib was different. It meant he now had absolute freedom in his room, and though the bookshelf was attached to the wall and the plugs all had safety stoppers, the prime directive of a little boy is to endanger himself.
We talked to him in advance about it, explained that he was a big boy and therefore was going to have a big boy bed. He’d taken to napping with us in the afternoon on our bed, so the concept wasn’t foreign, but he enjoyed the safety of the bars at night as much as we did. Kids like boundaries, both figurative and literal.
We let E watch us take the crib apart, so that he would know that even though it looked different, the bed remained the same. We went about our Saturday, building forts in the dining room, making ramen for lunch, swimming in the High Park pool where he shut his eyes and mouth tight and ducked underwater three whole times. (Another huge progression, actually, achieved without fanfare.)
“I used to be a little baby who sleeped in a crib,” Emile explained with adorable seriousness over dinner, as if this was news. “But now I’m a big boy and I sleep in a big boy bed.”
When bedtime arrived, though, he got anxious. After rolling around in the clean laundry on our bed, brushing his teeth and reading Raffi’s Baby Beluga and Gary Taxali’s This is Silly, it came time to go to sleep. I picked him up so he could pull the light switch off, as he always does, and then put him down in the bed, as I always do. This time, however, Emile started crying.
We talked it out, as best as you can with a two-year-old, but it didn’t help. He had about four different crying jags before I finally got him to lie down, albeit only with me lying beside him. He put his arm around my neck and, within five minutes, was fast asleep.
Mission semi-accomplished. He’d been sleeping on his own since seven months, so we didn’t want him to suddenly require us beside him to go to bed each night. The next night he again asked me to lie down. This time I held my ground. “Oh. Okay,” he said, then went promptly to sleep. That was that. (Sorta. He has started waking up at 5:30 a.m., getting out of bed, and yelling for us to come play. We’re really hoping this doesn’t last.)
We’d stressed about sleep-training, but he picked that up in about a half-hour. We’d preemptively worried about him moving to the preschool room, but E didn’t even blink. We’d also been unnecessarily concerned about ditching his pacifier, toilet-training and any number of other firsts. But kids generally roll with change because they want nothing more than to grow older. It’s parents who fear it, because we want the opposite. The real reason kids seem to grow so fast is because there is nothing we can do to slow it down.
Not yet three and Emile is already a real boy, sitting there in his muscle shirt, casually brushing aside his curly locks while achieving some new heretofore-unachievable goal and looking up with an umm-did-you-see-that grin.
The crib was really the last vestige of his babyhood, and now it is gone, shuffled off into the dustbin of history (the basement). We’ll miss the crib because of what it represented, but E’s already moved on. Nostalgia is an adult-only phenomenon.
“I will grow and grow and grow,” Emile told me, beaming, in the backyard. “And then I will touch the stars.”