the difference in a decade

My oldest turns twelve this Sunday.

Twelve. The number before thirteen.

Twelve. Halfway to twenty-four.

Twelve. Four years to driving. 

One dozen years of motherhood all wrapped up in that gangly boy whose head is inching up by the day. Today I still look over him, but tomorrow… well, we’ll be eye to eye pretty soon. And now he’s almost twelve.

It snowed a few days back, and he shoveled the walks, threw snowballs at his siblings, and carried the toddler around in the snow. This youngest of ours, this littlest who enjoyed his first snow day adventure, he will be twenty-one months next week.

Twenty-one months. Practically two. Cue the moment in your parenting when you remember why you didn’t want to do two year-olds again. They’re demanding and nuts and so ridiculously cute that one moment you’re declaring “No, you’ll eat what we’re having” and the next moment you’re raiding the fridge for The Toddler’s Favorite Foods. Here. Have some blueberries, for goodness sake.

Oh, two year olds.  Oh, twelve year olds. Oh, all the in-betweens.

It’s a sacred thing, raising a child. Past the sleepless nights and the mysteries of potty training, there’s a hundred new things that you learn (and worry about) along the way. Will you be too tough, too soft, too vocal, too tolerant? Will you be too much or will they need more or what if it all goes wrong and at the end of the day you missed a cue or a sign or you just weren’t quite cut out for it?

There’s a million ‘what if’s’ to line your thoughts, a thousand moments when you could have responded differently, and probably a few mistakes that will shape them or haunt them (or give them something to talk about to their therapist one day.)

As I look at this almost teenager whose birthday is approaching, as I watch him and listen and take in new details about how this is all going, there is one thing that has pleased me most: I like who he’s becoming. Of course I’ve always liked him, but there’s something special about beginning to glimpse the adult that is growing in there. He is clever and funny and so genuinely patient despite being the oldest-of-five-God-bless-him. He asks thoughtful questions, makes great and obscure puns, and I can’t imagine my world without him.

While the toddler makes his opinions known, the almost-teenager reminds me that the fight is worth it and that This Too Shall Pass. While the toddler is hilarious but exhausting, the twelve year old gives me hope and reminds me that the years will go quickly. And somehow that’s a relief and a sadness wrapped into one quiet truth.

The oldest is leading us into a new season of parenting, as he always has. And this youngest is like the last leaves of fall, reminding us of beauty in the change and the sweetness of the days that are slipping away for good.

Ten years apart, these two. I sometimes look at them, snuggled on the couch with a picture book being read for the twentieth time in a row, and I do the math as my eyes drift between them. When he can drive, he’ll be six. When he goes to college, he’ll be 8. When he is finishing high school, his big brother will be 28. They’ll turn 30 and 40 in the same year.

Always that decade to mark the difference. Always that decade to remind me of the brave new world ahead, and the years we’re leaving behind. What a difference a decade makes.

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