you should see the way my little 5-year-old lights up when he sees his buddies
come by to play. To him, there’s no real age difference. I hear his belly laugh
through the open window. I hear his ideas crumble into gasping giggles as he
struggles to get a sentence out through all of that unhinged joy. And those
older, bigger boys have inexplicably accepted him as a peer — even if he has a
slight baby accent and still needs training wheels.
looks at these older kids and sees playmates and role models. Real friendship.
And for the most part, he’s been forging a positive bond. My son hears his
friends say “please” and “thanks for having me” before leaving our house. They teach
him math problems and always make a seat available on the school bus.
just can’t believe Noah’s going to Kindergarten,” said one of the 8-year-old
boys, in the same way a nostalgic uncle might muse. “He’s getting so big.”
guys go on and ride bikes, someone has to stay with Noah,” the 11-year-old will
shooting Noah! He’s too little,” a third-grade friend demands during a Nerf
And yet I still feel a deep “uh oh” feeling in
All of the mixed-age benefits can’t deny the very real coming-of-age crap along the way.
know first-hand how badly kids want to be around older, cooler kids. I know how
this dynamic, if left unsupervised, can lead to things being learned to soon,
too crudely, as the little one’s innocence slowly seeps like water from a
oldest one in the neighborhood clan is in sixth grade, and no matter how nice
and polite he might be, that’s a scary age gap. A lot happens between Kindergarten and middle school, and all of the mixed-age benefits can’t deny
the very real coming-of-age crap along the way.
long until someone pulls out a Victoria’s Secret catalog in a huddle of
immature boys? Until a joint is lit or a cigarette appears? ‘Tis the nature of
hanging with the Big Kids, right? It’s a tale as old as time, and a mistake too
many parents turn a blind-eye toward.
he deserves to be happy.
he deserves to form friendships and have fun.
But more than anything, he
deserves to have a childhood.
deserves to be 5 years old — not a minute older.
know I can’t bubble wrap his brain and his heart, but I can say NO when that
“uh oh” feeling starts to creep in. NO to the sleepovers, NO to running around
the neighborhood without me, NO to spending all of his free time with older
kids — no matter how nice or cool they are.
is the only childhood he’ll have, and it can be tainted and turned in a blink.
He’ll be 7, 8, 11 years old in just a few heartbeats. He’ll fit into those
big-kid shoes, he’ll have an evolved pop-culture interest, and he’ll develop
the same mature mannerisms with time.
shouldn’t it come ... with time?
now he needs to be his own age — even if my totally
unfair limits and meanest-mom-in-the-world
boundaries are unpopular.
will be plenty of influences and experiences that I have no control over in his
life. There will be compromises and leaps of faith along the way. This is only
the beginning of a long, unsteady, scary balancing act.
when it comes to preserving his childhood? That’s non-negotiable.