On growing up.
Tonight, as I put my youngest son, Tiarnan, five, to bed, he remarked, eyes peering up at the ceiling, in contemplation: “I don’t feel like I am getting older.”
“Why don’t you feel that?”, I asked, quietly.
“Because you can’t see that you are getting older. If you don’t remember what size you were, how do you know you are getting older?”
His eyes appraised me in the gloom.
“Birthdays,”, he began, in self-consciously patient explanation, “are just birthdays. They don’t have five, six or seven stuck to them...they are just birthdays.”
I understood his problem then. The process of growing up was too slow for him to be directly conscious of it, without external measures. He didn’t feel he was getting any bigger. He didn’t feel anything much was changing. So, he didn’t feel he was getting any older. Then again, his external benchmarks – Ainan, his eldest brother and Fintan, the middle brother, were also growing, so, for him, in comparing himself to them, would not, necessarily see himself as getting any bigger...for they were growing too. He was always the small one. For him, time seemed static. He was ever the smallest, ever not any noticeably bigger , so it was quite fair for him to say that he did not feel he was growing older. He just could not define the changes that were occurring and had no direct means to measure them, for himself.
“When is my next birthday?”, asked his little curious voice in the darkness.
“Just under four months.”
“OK...”. He grew silent, thinking about it, perhaps wondering how he could prove his own aging, to himself.
Later, when his brother Fintan came into the room, he told him the good news, about when he was going to be six. Fintan absorbed the news in silence.
Tiarnan lay there, contemplating his own maturation. I could almost hear him thinking in the darkness, so intent was he. I left him to it, feeling that there was no need for me to be there. He let me go, in silence.
It is funny, as a parent, for him to express exasperation at his own apparent temporal stasis. For me, looking at him, I see a boy who has grown from a baby, in a very short time. Yet, I would agree that he doesn’t seem to get any bigger, each year (even though he does), because unconsciously I compare him to his growing elder brothers and the gap always remains. Thus, he seems to be perpetually suspended in this ever childish youth...whereas, in truth, he is growing and changing as much as any of them. Had he no elder brothers, we would see his change more starkly.
I felt, in his words, a yearning to grow up. Perhaps he feels the physical outranking of his brothers. I do not know. Tomorrow, perhaps, I shall explain to him that there is no need to feel so and that these years, he now wishes to rush by, will, in time, become ones that he had wished lingered, still. We do not appreciate, fully, what he have now, until it is long gone. So it is with childhood.
Sleep well, Tiarnan, my growing boy. You are getting bigger by the day, even if you can’t see it and know it. One day, you will look me straight in the eyes and say: “Hi Dad” – perhaps then, when you are as tall as I am, you will finally say to yourself, that you have grown up.
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