“Amaia took my toy! She took my toy without asking permission! AMAIA, YOU TOOK MY TOY WITHOUT ASKING PERMISSION!”
Normal preschooler meltdown, right? Well, not quite. Not the voice, anyhow. This is not the hysterical, high-pitched wail of a preschooler. No, these words echo off the walls in the booming, diaphragm-sourced voice of a school-aged kid — not a small child in throes of a non-verbal tantrum, but a child who is starting to control her emotions. And mean it.
Over the past month — since starting the school year, really — I’ve started to see a marked change in the twins. They’re nearing their fifth birthday. This is about when most of us start having longer memories of our own childhoods. I actually remember my fifth birthday cake — chocolate frosting with flowers.
Kindergarten is starting to move front-of-mind — When to start touring schools? Where are friends going? Should I consider homeschooling? And with the approach of the big 0-5 has come a shift from having Little Kids to having Kids.
Like, Legit. Actual. Kids. It’s all feeling . . . real. And not a little bit terrifying.
The tantrums are becoming fewer. Their bodies feel substantial. I eyeball a pair of their shorts and think, “Nah, too big” — only to find that they fit just right. I can’t just whip the twins up into my arms anymore. I have to brace what’s left of my core and squat down in order to avoid slipping a disc when I pick them up.
I hear them negotiate, extend “thank you”s and “sorry”s, dress themselves, ask to set the table or wash the dishes. They invite their little sister to play. They are kind to babies and friends. They blame. They defend. They try a bite. When they say “no”, it’s substantiated with reason.
They say “I love you.” It’s taken nearly five years to hear those three precious words. And they mean it.
(So worth the wait.)
I’m having flashes of the future. I see older kids with their knobby knees and hairy legs, with one foot in childhood and the other taking a step toward the great chasm of self-identity that is adolescence, and I think to myself My god, will that happen to my kids?
I am at once proud and sad, anticipating and anxious.
Elise says to me, “Will I stay this way forever?”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“I want to stay small forever. I don’t want to grow up. And I want Althea to stay small and Amaia to stay 3 years old and Baby Elias to stay a baby and you to not get wrinkles.”
My heart cramps. The sadness over the inevitability of it all spreads like warm water from my chest, down my arms. It’s a feeling of comfort mixed with uncertainty.
I don’t know what to say. So I am honest:
“Me either, baby. I wish we could all stay like this forever, too.”