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The Real Reason Kid's Birthdays are So Hard On Parents

Photograph by Twenty20

When my oldest son turned nine years old, I had the most striking, heart-wrenching epiphany: My baby was halfway done with his time at home.

Or rather, I was halfway done with my time with him at home. Only nine more years until he turned 18 and became an adult. (If not the mature, grown-up kind, then at least the legal kind.) And though I tried to reassure myself that I had far more than nine years left with him—it’s not as if I’ll never see him again once he turns 18, and he might still live at home after that point—I knew that those remaining nine years bore a sense of finality, both to his childhood and to my role as an active parent.

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Sometimes kids’ birthdays can hit parents hard, the way my child’s ninth birthday hit me. And it made me reflect on some of my thoughts during all the other birthdays that came before the ninth one.

Birthday #1: Look at this little person saying “Mama” and eating cake and taking three whole steps across the living room floor. I can’t believe how grown up my baby is! Where did the time go?

Birthday #2: Here we go! The terrible twos! But how can a kid who’s so cute be terrible?

How can this be the same tiny infant I held in my arms four years ago?

Birthday #3: Whew, am I glad that the terrible twos are over! (If this is your only or oldest child, you might say this without realizing that “threenagers” exist. Just wait. And good luck.)

Birthday #4: Hold on a second: My baby isn’t a toddler anymore. My baby doesn’t even move or speak anything like a toddler does. How can this be the same tiny infant I held in my arms four years ago?

Birthday #5: One word: Kindergarten. (And please pass the tissues.)

Birthday #6: If it weren’t for the fact that this little person is missing their two front teeth, I’d think that they were turning 16, not six. How can my baby be getting so big?

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Birthday #7: My baby can read chapter books. My baby can solve math problems. My baby can make their bed. My baby can shoot a basketball all the way into the big hoop. My baby can figure out how to work technology faster than I can. Should I still be calling this kid my baby? (Of course I should. They’ll always be my baby.)

Birthday #8: My baby has big-kid teeth and smelly shoes. They can cut their own food and pour their own drink. They can discuss current events. They can ride their bike far past where I can see them. I can even distinctly remember what it was like to be an eight-year-old. Now I’m the parent of an eight-year-old! Where did the time go?

And no matter which birthday, it’s hard to imagine how truly grown up they’ll become, and how truly fast the time will go.

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