This is a short one for my piano teacher, my history teacher, my Latin teacher; my uncles, my aunts, my grandparents; my brother, my sister; my best friends and my “more than friends.” This one is to all of you — in however small or great amount — have blessed me, loved me, and watched me grow from “this big” to “this big.”
When I turned 18, my dad took his hand and put them about 8 inches apart. He said to me, “I watched you grow from this big,” then he put his hands to about 5 feet apart, “to this big!” he joked. He then proceeded to chuckling at himself for a minute or two while I rolled my eyes at him jokingly —one of those, ah you, what a dad joke moments. But recently, I started to realize what those words really meant.
In the past few months, I’ve had my share of getting close to little kids. I’ve started taking on babysitting jobs as a college graduate, tutoring kids, and working as a camp counselor. In college, I started getting really close to my friends. I’ve watched them progress through different stages of their college life, and now I am saying goodbye to them — seeing that they are working toward their next stage in life. I started to see the little cousins that was once brought home to me as infants now grown as little first and second graders — once stumbling on their feet, now racing to me when I visit home.
Growing up is hard for me because I suck at goodbyes. I suck at saying goodbye to my best friends, who are now moving on to their next stages in life. I suck at saying goodbye to my dorm rooms, my walk to class through college campus in my scooter, my nervous sweaty hands when I say hi to my campus crush, my suite mates, planning meals with my friends just a few hours before eating, cramming for exams with my study buddies before major exams. I suck at letting go.
But growing up is both a heartwarming and bitter experience for parents. On the one hand, there is pride and joy in seeing your kid progressing and becoming more and more independent. On the other hand, it is heartbreaking to have your kid call you to cry to you about how her friends have silenced her out, cry to you about how some guy broke her heart, and cry to you about how she failed that first chemistry quiz. It is hard to see your kid fall, get hurt, and have to let them do so in order for them to get back up and walk again. It takes courage to let them take their steps and watch them get hurt and it takes faith to trust that they will find their way as they get back up again.
These few months have been one of the hardest times for me with my family. Although I have physically been away from my parents since I was in the fifth grade, I’ve always kept a close emotional distance to them. I started to drift away when I started college and I have been drifting more and more. I’ve been in sort of a transitional phase, as I’m sure many of you my age have gone through — this phase where you are trying to explore new things — new careers, your passions, your independence, and your identity. But I know I have been getting more and more distanced from my parents.
So I woke up and thought of this moment I had with my dad a few years ago, this silly joke about me being finally “this big.” I read through some of the old letters that my parents have written for me and through some of the journals I’ve written about the kids I babysat and counseled in the past few months. I thought of the little girl from camp, who has recently texted me for help. I thought of the last night where I hugged the kids from camp and cried in my bed, sad that I couldn’t do anything more for them, that something could break their lively and loving hearts. I thought of the amazement I had while holding my baby cousin’s hand — once barely able to grasp my thumb, now almost the size of my hand. I thought of my friends, those that I’ve met in orientation, the first week of school, back in high school — where and who they were, where they are going, and who they might be.
Birthdays are interesting because when I was younger, I thought that my birthdays were supposed to be about me. In the past few years, I’ve realized that birthdays are about giving thanks and celebrating all the people who have put the effort into me. This “village” of people who have been around in my life — putting their hearts into who I can become and cherishing the growth that they have seen in me.