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My 4-Year-Old Let Go; But I Couldn't

I met my friend Myra in a baby massage class when our sons—both our firstborns—were just three weeks old. We sparked up a friendship that began with my needing to practice Dutch but centered largely on our mutual adjustment to motherhood.

It started out as our friendship, primarily. We enjoyed coffee as our sons slept in their prams. But as the boys grew, we realized they had a similar temperament, character, vibe. They liked each other and became each other’s first friend.

Myra and I have chartered many of our sons' “firsts” together over the last four years: first teeth, first solids, first time at daycare. First fever, first words. Steps. Potty training. Preschool. You get the picture.

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About a year and a half ago, I mentioned I sometimes envied that her son could go spend the night with her parents, giving her a night alone with her husband. Being an expat, I have no local family.

“He should spend the night with us,” she said, even inviting him to go on a weekend holiday with them.

Um, what?

I was days away from delivering my third child then and couldn’t fathom one of them being away. She has suggested it since, and I’ve agreed, and then something would happen and it never came to be. If I’m honest, I was always a bit relieved.

Earlier today, though, I dropped my son off at her house, and, in about an hour, he'll be going to bed there.

I’m feeling strange. I don’t know how else to say it. It’s not that the house is too quiet—his two sisters make sure of that.

And it’s not that I’m concerned about where he is. Myra’s home is a very child-centered, happy environment. And healthy: there’s no television. They grow their own kale. Pretty much Shangri-la as far as places you’d be willing to send your child to stay without you.

My problem is I don’t give my son enough credit for grasping fully what is being proposed to him, and gauging what he really wants or can handle.

I worried yesterday that he would agree to go not really understanding what he was signing up for and would wake up there frightened in the middle of the night. (My husband, meanwhile, who leans a little differently gastronomically, worried only that our son would have to eat kale.)

This is a child who crawls into bed with us around 2 each morning. But it’s not because he’s scared, he says. It’s because he’s lonely. “You have daddy,” he tells me. “And I am all by myself.”

Making me think, yes, perhaps he'd enjoy a sleepover. Still, not long ago if I suggested he go play with a friend without my being there, he would think about it and then say, “I don’t like that. You have to stay.” I took that to mean he won’t be ready for a sleepover for a good while, because, as an adult, if you felt a certain way a week ago you likely feel the same way now.

But I sometimes forget the extreme leaps children can make in a short time, emotionally and developmentally. When I mentioned spending the night at his friend’s house yesterday, he calmly said yes—like it was no big thing.

I was reminded today while driving him there how capable he is of comprehending and envisioning scenarios that are new to him, and how well he knows himself and what he is ready for.

He was largely concerned that his friend would be sad when he left and that I would miss him. He asked when he would be home, and I said tomorrow after breakfast. “Then go to bed early,” he said, “because then breakfast will come sooner and you won’t have to be sad.” (I've used similar lines on him to get him to go to bed.)

When I dropped him off, there was no long good-bye, no time for repeating promises that I'd be there in an instant if he needed me and wanted to come home. He flew from the car and was so distracted by his excitement he actually closed the door in my face, leaving me standing on the doorstep alone.

“He’s ready,” Myra had assured me. “It’s just you who is not.”

I’m happy that he’s a social little guy with genuine connections to his friends, at such a young age. I’m happy that he knows himself well enough to know what next steps he’s ready to take.

RELATED: Why Sleepovers Suck for Single Parents

But it's always a bit of a shock. There are lots of firsts still to come, healthy and positive firsts, and this is just a reminder that they will be here a lot sooner than I expect, and that he’ll probably always be ready before I am.

Photo via Tracy Brown Hamilton

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