I smiled when I heard someone refer to the terrible twos this week. They never felt any more terrible to me than the threes or the fours or the twelves. They were just different.
I've always thought that the changes in the first year of a baby's life are so dramatic and so plentiful that parents miss the forest for the trees. There's so much to notice and to which you must adjust and the changes are so rapid that you hardly have a chance to catch your breath. First you have to remember to support their heads, then they're crying, then they're not sleeping, then they are learning to eat, then they are noticing that you're leaving and you're so wrapped up in the differences that you lose track of the gestalt.
It's hard to see the growth as a series of stages when you are living it and it's happening so fast. But somewhere around 24 months things seem to slow down. The stages being to lengthen and last forever. It's an illusion, really. The mischievous crawler who takes fiendish delight in scooting out of sight turns into the arms-above-her-head almost-walker who bends your spine into a permanent crouch as you support her efforts to ambulate without her parents really registering the change. And just when you think you can't lean over for one more trip down the hall, she's running on her own.
The teetering toddler stage was the first one I recognized as having an actual beginning and end. Drunk on a teaspoon of champagne at his first birthday party, the Big Cuter, having heretofore shown no signs of wanting to walk on his own, suddenly ran down the hallway of our apartment, then ran back and grabbed my leg. He repeated this pattern for the better part of an hour, going away and then returning to touch a parent, over and over again. Then he napped. When he awoke, walking was no big deal. He was steady and strong and he never toppled over. I remember thinking that it was the shortest stage of his life.
I was reminded of this yesterday when the boys were here. My life has many chapters and I've lived in many places, but explaining to the visiting son the evolution of the friendship I share with his parents sent me right back to 7th grade. I remembered the feelings as I retold the stories. Though the words were where and there and then my thoughts were anxious and deliriously happy and wondering and I realized that I was watching myself grow up.
When you've shared puberty and graduation and touched base through parenting there's an interesting time-line effect. Our three lives overlapped in comfortable ways over all that time, and telling the stories chronologically let me see it through fresh eyes - those of the son of my friends, who'd heard pieces and places before but never listened to this version, my version, my road to where I am right now. I saw the frightened 12 year old turn into the cocky 16 year old and I could hear the tear in the fabric of the space-time continuum. There had been a rupture, a chasm, a revolution and I'd moved into a new sphere. I was moving through stages that were longer and less dramatic but no less powerful or important than the race I'd run in my first twelve months of life.
Why am I belaboring this point? Because the stages are still shifting. They're just so long that they are barely noticeable. Major conflicts take more time to resolve, because the stage is stretching out, like Gumby. And, like Gumby, it's a little bit fragile when it tries to come back to its original shape. It can be done, but it's a little different every time. And gradually, it's just different enough that a partner might point it out.
Just when I thought that I could relax into cronehood, I'm forced to consider the fact that I'm still growing. Just when I thought I had it figured out.