This morning I was finishing up Little Man's lunch and trying to make the baby laugh so that he would stop practicing his ear-piercing SHRIEKING skills, when Little Man wandered into the kitchen, sat on the dog-food tub, picked up his kid-sized acoustic guitar and started strumming. He was barefoot, wearing faded jeans and the same grubby long-sleeved T-shirt he wore yesterday, and his hair -- which he is growing out -- was tossled in perfect bed-head chaos. Sleepy eyes. And I suddenly got a clear-as-day picture of him as a college student.
Little Man is 7. But he is a pretty big 7-year-old, and has picked up some adult-ish mannerisms and turns of phrase from his years as an only child. And we just had a weekend visit from his adored Uncle Bob, my husband's brother, who is a guitarist and spent the weekend idly strumming while chatting with everybody.
And in this moment, with Little Man sitting on a tub and strumming away, I found myself wondering: what college-student cliche will he most resemble? Will he be the sensitive, vegetarian co-op guy, who dates feminists and plays folk music? Will he be a player -- the subject of angry-warning graffiti on the wall in the women's bathroom? Will he be obsessed with sports or will he continue making art and writing poetry, or both? Will he be the good friend, the guy everybody goes to when they're in distress? Or will he be oblivious to other people's feelings, and drink too much with his friends, passing out on people's ratty sofas and stepping on empty pizza boxes while looking for his shoes?
It's so weird how little we know about what our kids will be like as adults, or even as almost-adults. I had no idea what Little Man would be like as a 7-year-old when he was Littler Man's age. We were surprised when he turned out to love drawing so much that it's almost hard to get him to do anything else. Where did he get that? My husband reminded me recently that, even as a baby and a toddler, Little Man wanted us to draw for him, the same firetrucks over and over and over, and he would watch the movements of the pen carefully, as if already taking notes -- oh, so that's how you make the firehose look like it's coiled up on the side of the truck! It's not as if one of us said to him, "Hey Little Man, drawing is really fun, you should try it!" Before either of us thought of suggesting anything in particular, he was already drawing. Already himself.
And with Littler Man, I'm thinking, it will be the same way. Somewhere in that delicious conglomeration of roly-poly flesh and baby-belly-laughs and drooly toothless grins is a real person, slowly getting ready to develop. He will be one thing or another. He will dance or he will run or he will tell stories or he will cook for everybody; he will gravitate towards some activities and not others; he will have a personality and a sense of humor (God willing). I used to think parents had all kinds of influence on their kids, but really, I get it now, it's the parents' job to provide a loving environment for them to freely grow up into themselves. And it's weird to think that this baby, this bundle of warm cuteness who cuddles up against me in his sleep, is already a person, but I just don't know who yet. It's so weird to think that you don't know who your kid will be, even though you feel as though you know them so intimately. I know every time the kid poops, and I clean his most intimate parts for him, and I latch him onto an intimate part of myself every time he's hungry, and yet I don't really know him yet. It's weirdly like a one-night-stand -- that most intimate of acts committed with a stranger.
I'm writing this and I'm thinking: This is a cliche. Everybody knows this about babies. And that is true. In fact, anything you write about babies is already a cliche, because everything has been said, not only by brilliant and well-known writers, but also by every mom or dad who strikes up a chat with another parent at the playground.
But there is a compulsion to say it anyway, because what is a cliche to someone who has been a parent for 30 years is a powerfully tangible, almost bodily truth to a new parent, or even a parent of a new baby. Oh my god, you think, he's growing so fast I can almost see him do it! And it doesn't feel like a cliche, but rather like an earth-shattering revelation. And it is, but when I say these things to my mother -- grandmother of 11 -- she smiles in a sweetly beautific way that says "Yes, you get it now." Meaning, that which she has known since 1963, when she had her first baby, and when (I'm sure) her own mother gave her the same beautific smile.
To me, though, it's a revelation --Babies are a mystery! -- and I vaguely feel as though I should be given the Nobel prize for discovering it.