By TMoM Team Member Laura Simon

Every elderly person in the grocery store says some version of “just like that” when they see me with my tribe of tiny children. “Oh, enjoy these years. They go by so fast.”

For seven years now, I’ve been rolling my eyes and mumbling, “Oh, I know … Just like that” while breaking up yet another fight between the siblings small enough to sit in the double seat at the front of the cart. Nothing about the early years seems fast, especially when you have a kid who seems determined to rewrite the book on childhood milestones.

My oldest child managed to drag the colicky weeks out for six whole months. He flat out refused to crawl until 11 months, and after much panic and physical therapy, finally decided to walk at 16 months. I was six months pregnant with his brother at the time, and I was trying to figure out how I was going to manage an infant and a toddler who had to be carried all the time. And then one day there was a plumber working on our tub, and my son was really curious. So he stood up and walked all the way across the house. No one or two-step trial run for this kid. He was from zero to proficient in the blink of an eye. Just like that.

He continued the trend with the other milestones we moms look forward to. He didn’t sleep through the night until sixteen months, either. Now you know why I look so tired. I’ve never recovered. Daytime potty training was a breeze, but nighttime training? I can’t even talk about it. He didn’t cut his first tooth until 11 months, so naturally when all his kindergarten friends were losing one, two, and even three teeth, his weren’t even loose. He just lost tooth number 1 about a month ago, at the end of first grade, and everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief. I’d secretly been Googling to see if it was possible to reach adulthood with baby teeth still intact.

He turned seven unable (or unwilling) to swim without a puddle jumper, in spite of the fact that I was a competitive swimmer and worked with him every chance I got. And even though he learned a heap of sight words at four, he still couldn’t tackle a chapter book at the end of first grade. (I was an English teacher, too. I’m not sure what this says about my professional or parenting abilities.)

I think if you were inclined to do the math, you’d discover that I’ve spent at least 70 percent of my child’s life worrying that he’ll stay a baby forever.

But two weeks ago, something clicked. First, he lost that tooth. True, he nearly fainted from fear, but once it came out, he seemed to grow three inches. Then, the swim team coaches worked a miracle. On Monday, he couldn’t swim half the pool without putting his feet down. By Friday, he was swimming full lengths of the pool without stopping, jumping off the diving board without a puddle jumper, treading water, and swimming backstroke. Granted, the backstroke still looks a lot like someone falling into a hole, but it is backstroke nonetheless. He grew three more inches and developed a full-blown swagger.

And then I handed him a Magic Treehouse book and asked him to read a chapter. We’d tried the series a number of times before, and even though it was well within his tested reading level, he just wasn’t interested. But on this particular Saturday, he curled up in the recliner with a blanket, and he stayed there. I was kind of afraid to breathe, so I sat very still and watched the pages turn. And turn. And turn. Suddenly, he looked up, gasped, and said, “Mommy, I accidently read five chapters!” And then, when I assured him it was OK, he read the rest of the book.

As if all this excitement wasn’t enough, his little brother mastered jumping off the diving board (with a puddle jumper, but it was still a big milestone). And his two-year-old sister not only potty trained, she decided she could stay dry all night long, too. Just like that, we are a household without diapers. Do you realize how much money that will save me each month? I can buy more Magic Treehouse books!

But it’s also bittersweet. Yes, I still have a toddler, but she’s a potty trained toddler who can dress herself, as long as you don’t mind that she’s wearing her swimsuit backwards. And my boys…are big. I can’t spell words in front of them because they know what I’m spelling. I have to actually offer thought-provoking answers to big questions about life. (No, I don’t know why we don’t fart out our noses. But that’s an interesting thought, kiddo.) Suddenly, I’m in a whole different stage of parenting, and it is exhilarating, terrifying, and sad all rolled up together.

The little years are hard. I’ll never be a fan of telling moms to “Enjoy!” while one child throws a tantrum and the other poops in the cart. No one enjoys that. But those commenters are sort of right about the rest. The years don’t feel fast, but then you wake up and they’re over. Just like that.

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