Daily, I find myself getting all worked up over the smallest things. They are good things, and it is a good working up, like when my daughter does three levels of stairs herself, and I celebrate her on every turn (breathless, lugging a gigantic baby). When she did a twelve-piece puzzle alone the other day, my voice hit such a high note when I found it, it was borderline choral. I think I was essentially shouting by the end of it, and she was so thrilled she couldn’t stop grinning and slapping the puzzle with this adult-like satisfaction. Recently, I watched her take her place at a play table at the doctor’s, while we waited for the baby’s appointment, among a few bigger kids. She held her own, observed, participated, and all the while I thought I would cry. My husband and I nudged each other constantly, as she did what billions of humans do everyday and interacted on the most basic level. These are such small things that our children do, and yet my chest puffs with such pride sometimes I don’t quite know what to do with myself.
Do you know why parents are so proud of their children, so proud of the smallest things? Because we have known them since their first breath; we have seen them at their utmost helplessness. And it is that utmost helplessness we always return to when they do something new; use a spoon themselves for the first time, ride a bike, read, finish school, show a stranger kindness, travel. It is this smallness we always remember. Their useless little arms and legs, their big bobbing heads. Their wrinkly skin and milky, unfocussed eyes. We have known our children since they could not do anything at all, except cry and fill their bellies. When my son sits there and reaches for toys to inspect and experiment with, I remember how small he was when the midwife gave him to me, how tiny his legs were, how big his eyes. When my daughter tells me something with actual words, or solves a problem herself, or jumps so high on the trampoline she surprises herself, I remember when she was small enough to balance on my chest, curled up like a tiny, peachy bug – and I compare her, in that moment of flying hair and grinning face and twenty centimetres of air beneath her feet, I compare her to that tiny peachy bug. The memory of their smallness, their quiet beginnings, it feeds the pride. It inflates it like a balloon until I am certain no other child in the history of children has done what my child is doing right now, before my very eyes.
And that pride, that balloon that seems like it could burst at any moment, that is also the fulfillment; bearing witness to the smallness becoming, all too quickly it seems, even on the longest of days, competence and knowledge and understanding. Watching on as the world absorbs them and they absorb the world. It is simultaneously so very, very basic and so very, very big.