Monday, February 08, 2016

Ben is Five

I'm convinced parents are constantly scratching their heads, going "how is it possible that I have a five year old child? Where did the time go? When did they grow so much?!"

Ben's very early days, the ones that first made me a parent, are so vividly etched in my mind that it seems impossible that they happened half a decade ago.

But accept it I must as it has become clear that we have a kid in our midst; Ben is no longer a toddler and he has the personality, skills, and opinions of a small, self-assured person. I feel like ages 3 and 4 are pretty crazy for kids because they're growing in so many ways and desperately trying to figure out the world around them. There are confusing rules and a tricky language and shoes that never, ever fit because suddenly they're too darn small again.

I find that Ben's emotional and social growth happens in abrupt surges that leave us bemused but (mostly) elated at the new changes. Four months ago he was running circles around the couch and then just last week he sat down for three hours to meticulously assemble a lego set. I dared not tiptoe into the dining room for fear of disturbing this quietly intent child. All was restored to normal, however, when he finished the set and did a few celebratory laps around the couch. Because, you know, he's still very much a small tyke. We are definitely in that murky, middle space of development that teeters between very little kid and.... kid.

At his core, Ben remains the same person: he's the boy that snuggles into bed with me every morning at 7:01am to discuss our day, the kid that comes running across the playground to greet me with giant hugs, and the child that adores tickle fights and piggy back rides. He also alternates between joyfully playing with Emma to expressing feelings of anger, petty jealousy, and extreme frustration, mostly in regards to Emma playing godzilla with his legos. Frankly, it all seems like pretty standard sibling stuff.

He can also say impulsive mean things, that leaves me worrying for his developing personality, until I talk with other moms and hear that they, too, 'are horrible, no good parents' according to their children. In other words, we have entered the dreaded testing phase. In a way, it's quite scientific and I find myself secretly impressed by his methods: If I say this nasty thing to my sister, how do my parents react? If A, then B. I give him high points for logical deductive reasoning, much to my occasional consternation.

And then, just like that, he'll curl back into my lap and hand out kisses like nothing ever happened. Child development whiplash. I have found that holding him close for hugs is a way for us to both calm down and regroup after trying moments. We are a family that thrives on physical contact to strengthen our emotional connections; I didn't realize for a very long time how effective it was for my parenting strategy, especially as we can then discuss the outburst and the accompanying emotions. Childhood (and parenthood) is no easy walk in the park.

Ben has a generally sunny and eager personality; he is occasionally impulsive and daring, and very personable. This is a kid that adores social interactions and personal connections. My hope, as his parent, is that he continues to nurture these traits, as they're the bedrock of his personality. I appreciate the ways in which he approaches problems and fears, with logic, bravery, and sporadic freak-outs. He is definitely my son. I hope his impish nature will stay true throughout his life as it is constant source of humor (and occasional vexation) for his family and friends.

The other day I had a bad headache and was feeling poorly. Ben suggested that I go upstairs for a bit of a laydown and then proceeded to tuck me into bed, turn out the light, and 'let him know if I needed anything or if I got scared of the dark'. These are the days that leave me in such awe of the person he's becoming. These moments of independent action and empathy are glorious and I find such joy in seeing him strengthen these behaviors.

We are currently in kindergarten limbo: we're touring a few different schools to hopefully find which one will be the right fit for our energetic kid. From where I stand, they all focus too much on reading and have far too little recess; I find it hard to picture my active boy cooped up in a brick building for six hours a day. If we're being honest, I'm worried about that. Kids these days have so little time for running and playing; why must we begin so early with arithmetic? Ben is a smart kid and is developing good social skills; I have no doubt that he'll do just fine in school and later in life... I just wish it didn't have to begin so quickly. (Update: Hmm, this seems to be a trend)

I'm combating these fears by purposefully not planning many structured activities in the coming six months. I want us to go camping, play in the water, and run wild through the forests. Because, despite the challenges, childhood is a pretty glorious time, and I wouldn't mind sharing the fun with my happy, goofy, wonderful kid.