Sweet boy woke up on his 4th birthday and promptly stated, "Mommy, since I'm this many (holding up four fingers) today, we need to take the rails off my big-boy-bed."
Okay. Pause. Deep breath. Dis-assemble aluminum and mesh bed rails.
And, without any pomp and circumstance (like when he first got his big-boy-bed and we made the biggest deal EVER out of sleeping on a twin bed), we removed the rails before breakfast.
The day went on, and by night-time, after his birthday party, after all his toys were opened and played-with, the inevitable question came. We'd just finished before-night-night-time reading and shut the lights off and were laying there oh-so-quietly in his big-boy-bed-without-rails, when Jackson asked, in the most matter-of-fact way, "Mommy, when am I gonna be big like you?"
"Not for a long time," is what I blurted out, without even a second thought. I wasn't ready for this question. This question wasn't supposed to come until elementary school, right!? I don't want him to be big. He's NOT big. He's my baby! And, Lord, who wants to be big-like-me anyway? And what is the "proper" answer? Forget proper, what's the right answer?
"But I want to," he responded.
"Want to what?"
"Be big. Like you," the sweetie said, with such a needy, yet innocent, little-boy voice. "I'm four now, mommy, doesn't that mean I'm big?"
I used to want to be big. I remember all my friends wanted to be big. I think most kids are just dying to be big. But it got me thinking.... what's all that great about being big?
"Oh, sweetie. You are big. You're a big brother to your baby sister. You're in big-boy school (PreK). You sleep in a big-boy-bed-without-rails." (What else could I say?) He kind of moaned a little happy moan that sounded like a self-soothing "ohhhh," but with an "m," like "mohhh.." He was happy. My answer was sufficient. For him.
But my mind wasn't satisfied. All night, I kept thinking, "why is it so great to be big?" Big people have to work, pay bills, take care of children, manage meltdowns, cook breakfast-lunch-dinner, live up to expectations, deal with marriages, divorces, relationships, all-the-while aging, covering up wrinkles, losing hair, and taking care of our own sick parents. We manage and juggle all our various roles in this life. And then race home to play with our children, hoping to feel that magic of being a child all over again.
So really, I guess we grow up to be big, then once we're big, we wish we were small again. Care-free, with innocent eyes that don't worry about the hate in this world, the wars, the fights, the sicknesses and death. All the baggage that comes with being "big."
I think if my son asks again, I'm gonna say that being "big" just isn't all that. Stay little as long as you can. And by that, I mean, watch for miracles, look for magic, search for the sunshine in every situation. Blow bubbles, paint with your fingers, make messes, embrace the chaos, beg to stay awake, and smile as much as you can. Even if you're "big." Because at this point, as 2011 begins and I stare 40 in the face, I know I'd really just rather be little, like them.