One night this summer, Atticus stayed at my mom’s house overnight so Mike and I could have a date night, which ended up being an early dinner so we could come home to watch House of Cards. (We are very exciting people.) When Atticus wanted to Facetime with us, we agreed, but it turned out to be a bit of a mistake. Even though he loves loves loves staying at Grammy’s house and being with Grammy, he was tired. Seeing us but not being able to be with us so close to bedtime was confusing and upsetting to him.
It was upsetting to us, too, a little bit. We are used to his clinginess and his tears (and we were in the middle of a big clingy phase at that point) but as he reached for us through the screen he had a look on his face that neither of us had seen before, sadness and confusion and tiredness all mingled into something new. Tears filled my own eyes as I watched him try to make sense of what was happening.
I would have told you that I knew all of his faces, the tired silliness at bedtime and the sly side-eye when he’s doing something he knows is questionable and the quiet nervousness of a new situation. He might be a big three-year-old now, but I grew him as a tiny baby inside of me, so of course I know his faces.
But I didn’t know that one because I was seeing something he had never experienced before.
I have thought about that face a lot over the past couple of months. When Atticus was tiny, I reminded myself often how steep the learning curve must be to a little person. But now he walks (runs) and talks (yells) and I forget that there are still so many things he hasn’t seen, hasn’t felt inside.
As a parent, I think we talk more about the positive feelings that we get to watch our kids experience as they learn: pride at an accomplishment, joy at seeing something new, self-control in a hard situation. It’s more difficult to think about the things that will make him sad and scared and confused in the future and give him all sorts of new feelings he has never felt before. It’s scary for me, too. The baby stage was hard because so many people had opinions about what we were supposed to do, but this part feels hard because Atticus is uncharted as a person and it’s becoming so clear that there is no guidebook to help us discover who he is.
I don’t want to pivot to platitudes or an easy answer here. I work with middle schoolers so I am crushingly aware that these feelings of uncertainty are only going to increase over time. But I do mean it when I say that despite feeling like a terrible responsibility, I am aware that it is such a privilege to watch him work these things out and help him learn what to do with all the things he takes in. It has helped me realize how many new feelings and experiences I have had since becoming a parent, too, and that we are all three in this together.
Two Atticus faces to close us out:
Hmm, what is in this box?
Ah, yes, it is chocolate cake.