Parenting is embracing a million tiny deaths, including your own
Hellos and Good-byes
He was super excited. His first time walking to school on his own.
This is the magical end of grade four.
Like all magic, the alchemy comes with a cost, a tiny, beautiful slice of a fee. In return for this amazing new kid, this more worldly person, the magic steals the kid we’ve known and loved. The one who needed us for navigation, protection, and comfort on his walk to school.
I’ll miss that kid.
I’m excited to meet this knew one too.
Parenthood is saying goodbye to someone you love and hello to someone new, over and over again. A natural cycle of magic that transmogrifies the one you love the most into the new; their old self gone forever, their new self here for now. In the best way, this means that parenthood is the acceptance of a million tiny deaths and the welcoming of a million little hellos.
Maybe, just maybe, this transformative magic can help prepare me for my turn to pay the final fee (though I’m in no rush).
The magic is so normal it is easy to miss. It takes its slice while generously leaving a breadcrumb trail of memories. A path to a warm blanket on a cold day so you can wrap yourself in the time when they still fit in the crook of your arm, held your hand, that outfit they wore!
They are forever older than they were, which is good. You don’t want the magic to go in reverse. Part of the excitement is getting to know this new them, to see what they will do next.
Body snatchers style, it is not always obvious when the kid you loved has replaced themselves. “Oh,” you might suddenly wonder, “Did we already have our last walk to school together? I didn’t know.”
This new kid fills you so full of love and surprises.
We’re Lucky and We’re Going to Die
There are missed good-byes and hellos on the other end too.
My almost 82 year old dad has dementia now. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t want to. Like most of life it happened so slowly that it was sudden. We find ways to make it work. We help him share the memories he can, shakily wrapping us all in his blanket of nostalgia and story. That works for a bit, until it doesn’t.
The dad I’ve known is gone. I didn’t know to say good-bye. I know when I would have said it.
It was years ago now, but maybe not so many. Like always when we visit, it was winter in the prairies. We sat up late sharing stories like we always do. The ultimate moment of the trip when Poppa showed his three year old grandson how to better jump off of the living room couch. Our son had been half hoping, half sliding off the couch. Poppa decided to show him how to improve his jump by leaping with both feet. Too old for this type of thing Poppa did a demo first, leaping across the living room. Then together they climbed the couch, Poppa towering over the living room, his grandson excited next to him, and they jumped, and jumped.
The next time I saw Dad in person my brother called me first. “Dad’s gotten a lot older,” he said, and he was right.
But we’re lucky.
Luckier than many to have so much residual magic. Dad’s journey has allowed him to see in my life all the things a parent holding a baby in the crook of their arm hopes to see.
Paying the Price
I am excited to meet the many new versions of my son. I want for us all the incredible life events that year by year add up to me being dead.
And I want him to get to grow old meeting new versions of his own children, which leads to the same ultimate conclusion for him too.
The beautiful magic takes a small fee here and there as the people we’ve been disappear into nothing. The fee feels infinitesimally small in ourselves as we walk to school for the first time, turn into teens, replace our high school selves. It is more obvious when we watch our children pay it, but it gives so much that the trade is almost immeasurable.
The cost feels feels incredibly expensive when our parents, our friends, and eventually, ourselves, pay the final instalment. Like discovering you haven’t been paying your mortgage all these years and the total amount is due right now, except worse, except death.
I love these people so fucking much and I don’t want them to die. I don’t want to die, but the magic is the magic, and I do not want the static alternative. I want to say goodbye and hello to my son. I want to do the same to myself as I grow and learn and change. I want all of the incredible transformative gifts the magic brings.
It has already given me so much. I hope it will also teach me not to fear the cost, to focus on the embarrassment of riches that it brings instead.
My son had his first solo walk to school today and I’m so happy for him as he coasts into the mystery of being a tween.
And yes, it has led to thinking about future goodbyes and hellos and death. I’m going to die, and maybe that’s okay. I hope it’s a long, long time from now. I have so much more luck to have.
But right now it is today. And today we are alive and I am focusing on hellos not goodbyes.
So, kid who can walk himself to school, what are you like?
I can’t wait to find out.
Thank you for reading!
I write about leadership and life at ianrowebot.medium.com I hope you will check out my other work too.