My son, Charlie, is closing in on 3 1/2 years old now. That means his toddler days are numbered. Age 3 is still a toddler, but 4? Not so much. You hit 4 and you're officially something else. A preschooler, maybe. Or just "a little kid." Either way, Charlie doesn't care much. He's on the fast track to be a "big kid," as he puts it. He's all into dressing himself (backward T-shirts every time) and going to the potty on his own (his aim is still ... ummmm ... challenged). As far as he's concerned, it's goodbye to all that toddler stuff—and good riddance, too.
But it's different for Dad.
Ugh. This is a bittersweet era for me now. See, after this, I'm done with toddlerness. My oldest is 8 and my middle child is 6. Charlie was our last and I've been trying to grasp that, to sit down and ponder what it truly feels like to know deep down that I will never be a daddy to a toddler again. I'm honestly having trouble with it.
Part of me can't wait to not have to continually worry about my littlest guy tripping over his blankie when he's coming down the stairs. Part of me can't wait to not have to sweep the entire downstairs after every time I hand this guy a bowl of Goldfish. But part of me wants to sign up for 10 more years of that stuff too, you know?
Part of me wants to freeze time, just like all the other parents before me have wanted to freeze time, too. We can't, though, can we?
Nothing can stop this relentless ball from rolling. It sends chills up my tired spine. Because I know what it means. It means that one of the loveliest parts of my life is about to come to an end. The end of experiencing the toddler era, me watching Charlie grow—and outgrow—this brief but challenging and beautiful time. There will never be a time like this: watching this last toddler of mine connecting the dots with language and humor and sadness and all of it seemingly at once.
But I am going to miss the voice. That tiny garbled mess slowly becoming a true human sound.
I'm going to miss what I had. I'm going to miss it a lot. I'm not going to lie and say I'll miss everything, because, oh, hell no. I won't miss the diapers. Or the multi-faceted torture that is potty training. And I'm probably not going to pine for the days when my goddamn kid wouldn't listen to me because he was trying to trying to test the boundaries of authority and see where his most primal urges could take him. I won't miss yelling, "Charliiiiiiie! Sop! Stop! STOP!" for what seemed like 2000 years, not just two.
But I am going to miss the voice. That tiny garbled mess slowly becoming a true human sound. And I am going to miss the light in his eyes, the magic burst of a grin that fires up the face of a toddler when they're thrilled by the simplest thing—like a cardboard box and some tape.
And I am going to miss the man I was, in the thick of it all. Me, losing my head, hollering and laughing and throwing up all at the same time. This isn't only ending for Charlie, this stuff is ending for me now, too. I helped guide three kids through this punishing gauntlet of trauma known as the Toddler Years. I held the hands of three kids as they were figuring things out. This is hot. This will bite you. This is Sam-I-Am.
This is how we drive a car. So, get up on my lap and take this wheel and let's move slow down through this parking lot, OK, man? Because I wanna let you drive for a while. Just a minute or two. Look at you smiling, your heart showing in your eyes, big glow, big twinkling. Ha. What a beautiful thing.
And how cool was all that? How cool were we? So cool. We were so cool together.