I posted a picture of me and my baby playing tee ball this week. We went out back, set up the tee, and knocked the yellow ball from the perch. I even set up the camera with the little timer thing to get us in the right moment.
The scene was adorable. He was apprehensive at first, lightly gripping the bat, until I came around and helped guide his arms to make the swing. Afterwards, I cheered. A cute time was had by all.
I debated whether or not to post it on social media. While I’ve been trying to share more of my life with people, I still fear becoming an over-sharer. Yet this was sweet. I was proud of him for showing interest in an outside activity. This is my baby we’re talking about here. My adorable little fella.
When I did share the images, the comments were all so positive and made me happy that I chose to include others in our moment. One of the most common things that they commented about my sweet little baby, however, was:
Oh my gosh! He’s almost your height!
What? My baby? Almost my height?
And then I looked closer and a voice in my head says, “Oh wow. He is.”
I guess I should probably mention that my baby is ten years old.
Not only is he ten, but he’s like a beefy ten. Lucas is a little man who, as crazy as it is to say, fits into my clothes. It saves me money, but it really knocks me for a loop most days to see him wearing a t-shirt that I considered mine up until a week ago.
My daughter is almost my height too, but that’s something I’ve become keenly aware of. As she grows into a teenager, her personality has always reminded me that she’s not a kid anymore. Whether it’s her surprising knowledge of something I might consider “grown up” or her overall attitude, my little girl is sprouting up emotionally and mentally. Physically is just another aspect of all that. It may surprise me at times, but it’s not as jarring as it is when looking at pictures of her brother.
Despite his imposing figure, Lucas is still my baby and probably always will be. Not only is he the second born, he’s non-verbal with autism. While there are certain things that remind me of how far he’s come, like seeing him demonstrate life skills that we tirelessly worked on together, there are other things that hide the fact that he’s growing into a man.
Long past the expiration date for kids his age, Lucas’s loves have remained steady for many years. He still flocks to Elmo and Raffi, along with a slew of toys that many would consider age inappropriate. I’ve had sales people, eyeing me with an child-like Leapfrog toy, annoyingly ask, “How old is the baby?” I’ve watched as some of his favorite presents had “1-3 years” written on the package. I’ve even stared down the image of a diapered toddler on the front of the box for the toy I was presently buying for him. Yes. I battled the Special Needs Parent’s Age Appropriate Present Blues for many years.
During those times, I focused a lot on how big he was getting. I worried about his missed milestones every time he grew another inch. Every pound and every shoe size increase was a grim reminder that he was getting bigger and a spotlight on all the things he wasn’t doing. I kept picturing my guy, stagnant, growing into a full grown person and me, his feeble dad, tasked with caring for him.
A funny thing happened on the way to puberty, though. The things I noticed started to flip. No longer was I so fixated on his ever-growing frame. Rather, I saw right through it. I still lift him up and spin him around. He plops on my lap as if he was a portion of his actual size. As the youngest, he would probably have been the baby of the family anyway. The fact that he’s remained the sweetest boy I ever met keeps him the baby of the family for much longer.
Then, a picture like the tee ball one comes along and reminds me of how big he’s become. I think about all the times I saw photos from parents with grown children on the spectrum back when my son was first diagnosed as a toddler. I remember questioning how they could do it. How they could be there and raise a grown man with some of the needs that that my son had? I mean, to care for a baby with special needs is one thing. To care for a teen and then an adult is another.
Today, I know how they do it. I know because I am. I know because my baby is still my baby and always will be my baby. He can be 250 pounds, knocking the tee ball out of the complex, and I’ll still see an adorable little guy before me. He can have a long white beard and I’d still want to pinch his cheeks.
I care for him because I love him and I love him, not because of his age, but because he’s mine. No matter where we go or what we do, he’ll always be my little guy…even when he’s bigger than me.