When people find out Jax was born 15 weeks early, their facial cues betray a range of emotions I’ve gotten used to seeing.
They don’t try to hide the initial shock, but almost everyone has questions they won’t ask. Sometimes is he normal? slips out, and I usually say, of course not, he’s a superhero (he so is). Sometimes people say just the right thing, like, well isn’t he a miracle or after all he’s been through, he must be supposed to be here. Sometimes, I can tell they wonder what I did wrong.
The truth is that Jax does what Jax wants—then, now, and I kind of hope always. See, no one is less aware of the fact that he’s two inches shorter and two pounds lighter than the smallest full-term kids in his age group than Jax is when he’s, say, trying to climb up the twisty slide at the playground—and succeeding. Even I don’t think of it much. I’m only writing about it now because he’s going to turn three next month, and I realized I have a preschooler now, not a toddler anymore. I got some of those mom feels, those startled my baby is growing up too fast reminders the other moms are always talking about. They didn’t last, though.
Am I a bad mom if those feels didn’t totally tear me up inside? If I’m actually too excited to see Jax grow and learn (and grow some more) than I am to wish he could still fall asleep on my chest?
He was so small, only five and a half pounds, when he came home from the hospital that when I stopped breastfeeding, I would sit with my knees drawn halfway to my chest and prop him up in the crook of my lap, back against my legs, to bottle-feed him. It kept one of my hands free to take pictures of him, and sitting up kept him more awake then if I held him the “normal” way, cradled in one arm. He would rest and burp there afterwards, right above where I’d carried him for only six months, not nine. The day I realized he was too big to sit on my stomach to eat, I did cry. Then I fed him that way for one more week anyway. We both do what we want, I guess.
So, he might not look it, but Jax is a preschooler. He’s not a baby anymore, and he knows it. When his two-month-old nephew is around, Jax fetches binkies and runaway socks and says, “don’t cry, Ricky,” but with a w instead of an r in “cry.” He’s the big boy at home, and the smallest kid in daycare. I dread the first time he comes home and tells me someone bigger than him picked on him about being little, or for something else, but because he’s little. Or maybe he won’t act little when it happens, and will come home with a story about sticking up for himself, and we’ll both be so proud.
I’ve stopped worrying about developmental delays, about “normal” vs. not. The other night, my stepmom–who will just love me for sharing this–burped at the supper table. Jax looked at her as she took a sip of her drink and cleared her throat. He waited. When she didn’t say it first, he said, “Excuse me, Mimi.” Well, he said, “Skee me, Mimi,” but it was hilarious, anyway, him reminding her of the manners he’s learning about. Earlier in the week, he helped Mimi put away 2-liter bottles of soda, pulling them one at a time from her reusable grocery totes, walking them to the pantry, and standing them up neatly on the floor beside the cereal boxes. He says his ABCs, counts to 10, hugs people when they cry or get hurt, and sings a lovely rendition of “Baa Baa Black Sheep.”
But he’s smaller, there’s no denying it. A new daycare teacher or doctor or co-worker will hear Jax’s birth story and not be able to pick her jaw up off the floor, and I’ll look at him with their new eyes, like I too am noticing that tremendous presence packed into that little body for the first time. But I also look at him like I did through the plastic walls of an incubator, a small so impossible to imagine that he seems more like a runaway curly-haired giant by comparison now. Then, he weighed less than the current “normal” preschooler weight differential of two pounds.
Two pounds and two inches are target improvement measurements for a newborn preemie. For a preschooler, that’s small beans. I learned in the hospital not to underestimate my son, who is by any measure a truly amazing kid. And I’m so lucky I get to sit back and watch everyone else figure it out, too.
Talk to me about growth, development, milestones, how you know your child is amazing. Mom feels for everyone!