Yesterday was my morning to volunteer at the kids' school. I stopped at my friend's house to drop Paige off, rang her doorbell and peaked in her window to wait for her to come to the door. Her baby boy, who I swear was just newborn last week, toddled around the corner, binky in his mouth, big boy hair cut, and arms flailing wildly to avoid toppling over (which he did 3 times in the distance to the door). Where did one year go?
I stopped at the office to get my volunteer badge and turned to head to Mrs. Kirk's third grade classroom. On the way to the green hall, I passed an adorable line of what appeared to be kindergarteners, all business, walking quietly in a straight line. As I giggled at how small but grown up they appeared, I suddenly recognized one of them. My 5-year-old and third-born daughter, who in my mind was not-too-long-ago an opinionated 2-year-old leaving a wake of destruction behind her everywhere she went and terrorizing the neighborhood by sneaking out of our house and into the neighbor's before we even knew she was gone. How on earth is that my kid waving vigorously at me from her spot in line, chest puffed out and standing tall to show me just exactly how grown up she really is?
Further down the hall, I glanced into the library-turned-vaccination-clinic and paused to watch the hoards of nervous kids shuffling around and waiting for their turn to become H1N1 flu-fighter super students. Girls giggled in little circles and boys jostled each other to maintain their spot on the pecking order. A swirl of turquoise blue caught my eye and I heard myself catch my breath as I realized the beautiful, smiling 2nd grader was our first-born daughter and Queen of Katie Land. There she was, tall and lean in her girly twirly turquoise skirt and leggings and oblivious to the fact that I was watching her, standing in line interacting with her gaggle of girl friends, and appearing way too old. Wasn't it just a few weeks ago that she was a 22 pound, 9-month-old with the roundest face and four rolls of adorable chub on each of her thighs?
By the time I made it to Grant's 3rd grade classroom, I was a bit relieved that he was out of his classroom at reading group. I said hello to his 20-some classmates who were thrilled to take a break from learning about penguins and milk saying hi to the newest parent volunteer for as long as possible. I caught myself searching for a certain little girl who long ago stole my sweet son's heart and inwardly congratulated him on choosing well as she shyly smiled and waved. I moved to the hallway, taking down the Wild Things bulletin board and filing each piece of artwork in ginormous yellow folders made of poster board, and wondered where the past 8 1/2 years have gone. I found the hand-drawn monster with "Grant" written in slow, purposeful cursive in the bottom left hand corner and dug through the pile of folders to find my son's.
As I filed his artwork, I came across his collage. I pulled it out and as I examined each carefully cropped and placed photo, I realized it was a snapshot of all I was feeling. Looking back at me was baby Grant in a swing at the park, appearing to have stepped out of a Baby Gap catalog because when you only have one baby you can painstakingly dress him from head to toe multiple times a day. There was precocious 4-year-old Grant in his first school picture, dressed in his preppy polo shirt, smiling nervously and looking way too young to be in a school picture. There was 6-year-old Grant with his surfer hair, cut off jean shorts and button up shirt, head banging with a snow scraper as his fake guitar. And there was 8-year-old Grant, with his new spiky hair, skinny jeans, Converse, and grown-up attitude. Interspersed with the self-portraits were his favorite photos of each of his sisters, one of Curt and I, and several family Christmas pictures. One son, teetering on the edge between pre-adolescence and little boyhood. Eight years condensed into one collage.
I carried the stack of folders back into the classroom and glanced over to Grant's desk. He had snuck into the classroom while I was making copies and when he saw me, his face lit and he started to wave, then quickly put his hand down and did a more mature head-nod to acknowledge me. I stifled a giggle, blew him a kiss goodbye (much to his embarrassment) and headed to the van to pick up the baby of the family, who is somehow on the brink of turning four and has left behind all things baby related. Wasn't it yesterday we were bringing her home to meet her three older siblings?
Blink. And they've grown. I know that over the next handful of years, as each of my precious "babies" hurdles another milestone, I'll circle back to the oxymoron that the days seem long, but the years fly by. And I'll celebrate with them as I learn to pull back and let them spread their wings.