The most blissful five minutes of this whole week happened in the middle of a crowded barbecue restaurant.
I got to snuggle a tiny, 2-month-old boy. I admired his sleepy smile. I rubbed his fuzzy head. I inhaled his pure baby scent. Then I reluctantly returned Noah to his momma, a friend and colleague, while offering to quit my job and stay home to take care of him forever.
Oh, babies, you melt me. You start out so itty-bitty and lumpy, with elastic expressions and adorable cries and pure hearts.
And then you grow up so fast, like you’re in some kind of race.
Can we call timeout? Or at least slow the pace a little bit?
My own babies are no longer babies to anyone but me. This week we’re signing a schedule card for sophomore year of high school for one child, and next week we’re approving middle school courses for the other. Elementary school days are numbered (less than 70!) in this house.
My babies have been racing for years, long before I totally recognized the track.
They compete in a race created by adults, who talk about balance and the joy of learning while maintaining paradigms that encourage fierce competition and value high scores over evidence of individual progress.
When I was cuddling little Noah this week, I wasn’t thinking about which pre-AP classes he’ll take in middle school or his high school degree plan or his potential class rank.
I marveled at how much he is already loved unconditionally by his mom and dad, his two big sisters, his grandparents. He isn’t encumbered by expectations, unreasonable or otherwise. His existence alone garners him love beyond measure.
At what point in a child’s life do we shift from complete wonderment and adoration to high expectations? It varies from family to family, but by kindergarten in Texas schools, there’s little room for anything else.
According to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards, kindergarten students are expected to discuss the theme of a well-known fairytale or folktale, identify techniques used in media, identify three-dimensional solids in the real world, identify ways to earn income, and explain how authority figures make and enforce rules. (These are only a handful among hundreds of expected skills spelled out in a 28-page document available online.)
Once we get them started on the race, we don’t seem to be able to pull them off the track. Instead, we increase the rigor. We set the standards higher. We keep them awake a little later each school year to finish homework. (At this rate, by senior year, my children may get no sleep at all.)
We tell them that they are unique individuals who should try their best, yet we create lists that number them, with infinitesimal decimal places separating them. We praise them for besting other children — or criticize them for being beat.
What do we value when we hold a newborn baby?
Hope. Potential. New beginnings. Light. Love.
What do we teach them we value as they grow up?
Not near enough of hope or potential or new beginnings or light or love.
The good news: It’s never too late to have your heart melted by your babies — no matter how old they may be. They’re no longer teeny-tiny, they express their own opinions, they make mistakes big and small. And they deserve love and adoration merely because they exist.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at email@example.com.