Happy Monday guys, hope your weekend was a good one.
We spent ours trying out a new gymnastics class for the 4 year old (soon to be back-to-back with T-ball games for the 6 year old), new Sunday School classes for all three kids, and our first ever family bike ride with all five of us (including the newly 1-year-old in a trailer behind Dad).
These new activities mark more than just a change in season for our little family, they seem to me to mark a change in phase of life.
Where we once had a house full of chubby, wobbly toddlers and often seemed constrained by naptime and potty training, we still have all of that but also have sports teams, lost teeth, and some very big kid words, feelings, and conversations.
Today our parenting contributor, Jessica, is back with us exploring, as only she can, the often jolting experience of going from raising toddlers to parenting big kids…
It feels like I answer hundreds of questions every day. Silly questions from my three year old, lots and lots of “But why?” until my answers peter out to the inevitable, “Because that’s just how it works,” before I try to distract him with food or his baby sister.
My oldest, almost eight, stumps me all the time with questions about gravitational pull and Star Wars and football and meteorology. Turns out, I have very basic knowledge of many, many things.
But we jump onto Google or ask Siri and learn something new together, and I think it’s a good life lesson – we may not have all the answers, but we know where to find them.
Lately though, it’s my oldest daughter who asks the really hard questions. She’ll be six in two weeks, and during the day, she asks me how to spell words like “because” and “masterpiece.”
She wants to know which colors make orange, and when her little sister will start talking, and if I think she’ll marry Nico from school one day. But come bedtime she becomes quite grave. She sits in her bed and looks at me with big eyes, and then she asks me when I’m going to die.
The tears spill before she can even finish the question, and she scrambles into my lap, sobbing so hard she can barely continue.
“Because I’m really going to miss you.”
How do you even respond to this? What’s the right thing to do? Do I lie to make her feel better and vow to revisit the topic when she’s a little older, or do I speak honestly when I know it might make her feel worse?
I really don’t know which is better, and so I hug her and start speaking softly. I ask her if she remembers that part in Kung Fu Panda when Master Oogway tells Po, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery. But today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.”
She nods, pressed against me, and I tell her that we are here, together, right now. That no one knows what will happen, but that I have no plans to go anywhere.
It’s not great, but it’s the best start I have, because I’m trying to explain to my little girl that we can drive ourselves crazy with what-ifs. That if we think too much about what might happen tomorrow, we would never leave our beds today.
But then I stop and re-group, because she’s five and what am I even thinking. I need to speak to her on her level. So I start again.
I tell her that I’m looking forward to watching her do so many things – get her black belt and learn to drive and go on her first date and graduate from high school and university. Maybe get married and make me a grandmother one day.
She gives me a shaky little smile, but then the corners of her mouth turn down again.
“But will you be very old when you die?”
This time, I don’t even hesitate.
“Very, very old. You’ll be a little old lady yourself.”
She leans into me, nodding her head, and I hold her close. I tell her that it’s late, and she needs to get some sleep. She’s still crying a little, but she lies down and I tuck her covers around her, smoothing back her hair and wishing I had a better answer.
I don’t have a better answer. But I can be here for her when she really needs it, when she’s feeling small and vulnerable and looking down the road at what is truly inevitable.
I pull back her covers and slide into bed next to her, this girl who is suddenly all long legs. I tell her I love her, and that I’m so proud of her for asking questions, even the hard ones. And then I say nothing more. I just hold her until her breathing deepens and she slips into sleep.
And then I close my eyes and pray for a long life.
More on Parenting from MPMK
Need help feeding your toddler?
Sign up for our newsletter to get a handy stick-it-your-fridge list of our favorite meals for toddlers and a link to all of the recipes!