Sitting around the table on a lazy morning not long ago, I casually asked my son what he wants to be when he grows up. I expected him to say something silly, like Lightning McQueen or a dinosaur, but instead he very matter-of-factly and without hesitation answered, “a chef.”
I did a spit-take with my pretend tea.
A CHEF? Does he even know what that is? That’s a REAL THING that real people do. And then it hit me: he’s a real person.
Now, of course I know he’s a real person. I Frankenstein-ed him in my womb for nine months and then watered him and carefully fed him grapes and Goldfish every day for three years until he turned into this inbetweeny thing he is now: a very tiny person. Sure, he maxes out at barely three feet tall, poops for Tic Tacs, and thinks the greatest evil in the world is a bad wolf. But gone are the days of baby pudge and smiley coos and, frankly, being scant more than an adorable, sticky blob. When did my baby turn into a person with real-life aspirations? How can a mother miss something like that?
Did it happen when we were making dinner together? He’s always helped me in the kitchen — putting cut vegetables in the pot or shaking enough salt on everything to keep our wedding bands from ever slipping off for the rest of eternity. Since his sisters were born, he’s graduated to more advanced tasks like cutting butter with a tiny knife and even carefully stirring on the stove. Could it be that in my attempts to keep him from being underfoot at meal-prep times and by letting him help me I’ve effectively rushed him out of his babyhood?
Sure, it starts with dumping sugar into a bowl, but before I know it, he’s going to be missing family dinners to run the kitchen at a Michelin-starred restaurant. He’ll be out of pre-school parties and leaping straight into banquet catering. In the blink of an eye, he could be throwing down against Bobby Flay in one of the seven different-ish cooking competition shows that all conspicuously revolve around going head-to-head with Bobby Flay. WHAT HAVE I DONE?
My baby’s childhood is slipping through my fingers like Cajun seasoning in the wind! What happens when he no longer needs me to make his noodles and brownies? What happens when he no longer needs me at all? How did I find myself trapped in this bad episode of Le Cordon Bleu’s Clues?
It seems like only yesterday he was nuzzling into my neck and asking for a song, and letting me rock him in my arms before laying him gingerly into his bed for a nap. (Okay, it was maybe last Tuesday.) Suddenly, all I wanted was to have him make me a pretend lunch with giggles and plastic chicken in our play kitchen. OH GOD, NOT THE PLAY KITCHEN! It’s all going too fast!
Days later, he and his sisters and I all sat on the couch reading stories when we were stuck inside with colds. After going through “Nurse Nancy” for the third time that morning, I asked my daughter if she might like to be a doctor or nurse when she grows up. Yes, of course she would!
And then, with sobering gravity, my son took my face in his tiny hands and said, “Mommy?” I braced myself. “When I grow up, I’m going to be a — ” (lunges and throws his fists in the air) “–STOP SIGN!”
I felt my chest relax and a breath of relief escaped from my widening grin. I had been jolted awake from the scary dream. He still needs me. He’s still my playful little baby boy.
I still have time. (And, for the moment, so too does Bobby Flay.)