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The Indescribable Sadness of Babies Growing Up

Photograph by Twenty20

My wife recently composed a lovely and eloquent letter letting Faye, the saint of a woman who has lovingly been looking after our 20-month-old son, that our boy would be graduating from the home daycare and moving on to the preschool where my wife teaches.

As my mother-in-law and I read the letter in anticipation of adding our signatures alongside my wife’s, we had to fight back tears because it killed us to have to break up the happy union of our beautiful baby boy and a woman who has done a fantastic job of taking care of him, even as we realized that this was just part of life, and that if we wept uncontrollably every time our boy experiences a milestone of any kind, we’ll be too preoccupied with sobbing to be effective parents.

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I’ve already reconciled myself to my wife and I being the type of parents that tear up constantly, but we have to draw a line somewhere, for our baby’s sake as well as our own. Because once these milestones start, they don't stop.

Right now our son is a toddler who needs to be looked after by a family member or a nanny, but it won’t be long until he's is plugged into a system that begins with preschool and continues through elementary school and college and work and retirement and (in my morbid imagination at least) ends with a now-grown Declan throwing dirt on my grave at my funeral, and hopefully choking back tears instead of giving his Pops the middle-finger salute and sneering, “Goodbye and good riddance. You’re now in the fiery bowels of hell where you belong.”

...there’s part of me that wants to hold off the corrupting influence of adulthood for as long as possible, to keep my son a radiant, wild and untamed creature for as long as possible

Granted, it’s a bit of a leap to flash-forward to Declan experiencing my funeral from him saying goodbye to his beloved caregiver and hello to a world of classmates, teachers, principals and other authority figures. But once you enter the “system” of American life, you tend not to get off until the end, when your life draws to a close.

And there’s part of me that wants to keep Declan from entering the system for as long as possible, to keep him under the care of the people who adore him—whether it’s his parents or extended family or a woman who was paid to care for our child, but loves him for free. Like dopey old Holden Caulfield, there’s part of me that wants to hold off the corrupting influence of adulthood for as long as possible, to keep my son a radiant, wild and untamed creature for as long as possible.

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I suspect that’s the appeal of homeschooling. It’s a way for parents to keep their children close to home, literally and figuratively, while still satisfying society’s angry demand that children be socialized and educated so that they can be adequate citizens and contribute to society. It’s a way of fusing family and education together in a way that allows parents an almost disconcerting level of control over their children’s lives.

We’re not hardcore enough to go the homeschooling route but we'll probably be the kind of parents who make with the waterworks not just with actual milestones but also for things that have been elevated to milestone status out of deference to the overwrought emotions of parents like us.

So if you see my wife and I crying deep, full-body sobs at our son’s second-grade graduation sometime in the not too distant future, understand that we’re only human and we are absolutely, understandably devastated that our beautiful, blessed baby boy will never be a second-grader ever again.

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