“Mammy, my tooth is moving!” announces the five-year-old one evening.
“Oh,” I say to this latest proclamation. Knowing that it may or may not actually be true upon further investigation. “Did you bang your mouth or anything recently?”
“Um… yes,” he says.
I start to be a little concerned.
“You banged your mouth and your tooth is loose? When? How hard?!”
“Maybe I banged it”, he amends.
The toddler is put aside to play with something enticing while I lean in to examine the offending tooth. It takes a few tries to encourage him to open his mouth and not stick his tongue out over his teeth so that I can see. Sure enough, he demonstrates a little, but definite wobble in his right lower tooth. Now he really has my full attention. He can’t know that the thought of a tooth breaking off in my own mouth sometimes haunts my dreams, especially when a dentist visit is due.
I’m relatively confident this is not a problem. Relatively. Who else do we rely on in these situations, but the internet? A quick search confirms that it is one of the first baby teeth to fall out. We’d spoken about this life event only a couple of weeks ago, so I reassure him that it’s perfectly normal and he bounces off excited at the prospect of his big teeth coming down. Surprisingly so, considering his usual adamance that he’s not going to grow up and have to be an adult. Ever.
I message his father who is more freaked out at the news than I am. Our freshly-minted five-year-old is starting to lose his baby teeth? He might be ready, but I’m not sure if we are. When did he get this old? Most days it feels like we’re stuck in a rut going through the same motions over and over with him. Incessent questions. His attempts to argue about every single thing, often followed by rage-filled tantrums. The daily trials and tribulations of parenting a five-year-old have been masking his stealthy approach towards a new stage of growing up.
Meanwhile the toddler —who diverts so much attention away from what was once our precious only-child— ambles over to claim a cuddle. He’s busy growing his ninth baby tooth now. Slowly and steadily he’s been changing from baby to toddler since the start of winter.
For months I’ve had to closely watch the sneaky climber every second of the day – his mission to mount any object in reach, fearless of the hazards of great heights. It took days to master the concept of getting up on things… months to develop the means of getting back down again relatively safely. With great relief I can now leave him happily clambering up and down the back steps without total disaster ensueing. Only delighted with himself, he is.
He walks and runs with a rolling gait, his little pot belly proudly sticking out. His arms, legs and thighs are chubby, but lately I’ve noticed it starting to melt away even as the winter snow is receding with the arrival of spring outside. He’s dropped his aversion to using the baby signs he knows, and now giggles as he requests food in the middle of his bedtime story, or suggests a serving of milk when he’s finally ready to admit that he badly needs a nap.
The ‘terrible two’ tantrums appear to have arrived months ago. He flips from placid and cheerful to a shrieking demon at the drop of a hat (or spoon). The red mist comes down and he flings himself away in fury at being touched, heedless for doing damage to himself. Perversely he’s then enraged if he’s left to sob without a comforting hand on his back. Most of the time he’s caught in this toddler-logic-loop where he desperately wants to exist in two states at the same time – both comforted, and left alone.
His vocabulary of words is starting to expand day by day. “Cheese! cheese! cheese!”, he demands all day. Right on track for when the word explosions began for his brother. I know that in another six months the cute babbles and incomprehensible cries will have been replaced with partial sentences. Arms will be lengthening and strengthening along with his legs. One day soon we’ll realise that he has transformed into a boy. A very little boy yes, but not our big baby anymore.
I can’t decide whether to look forward to what’s coming, or dread it. I will welcome the loosening of the apron ties, and summer days where the two brothers can roam in the parks together without being watched every single second. Yet I’m going to miss pudgy arms around my neck, wide baby eyes, snub nose and cackling laughter. The little body that fits perfectly onto my lap. I’ll also miss the earnest desire to ‘help’ with household chores that then take twice as long to do with his assistance. And the fascination with the everyday ordinary around us that only our children easily see. Who will remind me to slow down and examine the pavement cracks?
As for the ominous cloud of the teenage years? I’m wary of their approach. We still have the illusion of some limited control to cling to right now. There’s moping, and stomping, and accusations that I’ve been saying no to him “his whole life.” We can suppress a smile as a furious boy child jumps up and down ranting at us about something bizarre that has offended him. There’s time still to address the underlying hurt that he’s being treated unfairly and hopefully teach him to release his emotions safely – before his ability to express himself becomes less ridiculous and more fearsome to behold.
It’s a new world they’re growing up in. One that seems smaller and scarier each year. The challenges they face are utterly different to the ones we encountered. So much pressure we feel to shape these children to live a life that will bring them joy, and still be a force for good in the world. Something we’re still trying to figure out for ourselves. The times they are a-changin’. I just hope we can keep up.