Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Growing Pains

My son has terrible growing pains, both physical and psychic.

The physical pains occur every few months at night.  They are in his feet and lower legs.  Usually it happens in one foot or leg at a time, but sometimes both.  In my paranoid parenting, I have asked and asked his doctor about these -- could they be signs of something wrong?  Polio? MS?  But, no, she assures me, they are literally growing pains.  When the growing pains occur, he experiences excruciating pain that requires some combination of massage, heat, and binding (usually a tight sock) to feel better.  As far as I can tell -- and one of the hardest things about parenting is that you can see and hear your child's pain but can't feel it -- it is like he is on some medieval rack, with his bones and muscles being pulled and stretched to meet their new needs.

The psychic pains also recur on an unpredictable cycle.  They generally manifest as a kind of Peter Pan syndrome in which my son states his wish to never grow up.  Sometimes, this relates to a desire not to lose some aspect of his childhood -- his right to play with stuffed animals, or jump in bouncy houses.  Sometimes, it relates to a fear of the future -- not just losing childhood toys and games but having to be bigger, older, different.  Sometimes it takes the form of nostalgia for lost youth, pangs he expresses when looking at old photos or home movies.  Somewhere in there is a fear about losing me, and his dad and sister -- or losing us as we are now, the family we are when they are kids and we are their grown up -- but not yet grown old -- parents. These pains, I know, are no less real or excruciating than his physical growing pains.

I am unsure where these pains come from.  Only some kids have physical growing pains, some even worse than my son.  Do others have the psychic pains, too?  What sets them in motion? What have we done to either make his childhood such a treasure that he does not want to leave it, or to make the future seem so bad that he does not want to greet it?  Why does his sister not experience such growing pains?  She, like him, resists all change -- until it happens.  But she seems eager for growth and the rights and pleasures of getting older.

Of course, I am torn.  I want him to grow up and become the amazing teenager and man that I know he will be.  And I want him to grow up and take on new responsibilities so that I, as parent, am needed less or needed in different ways than now. (Already, as they have shifted from being babies and toddlers to kids, my job has gotten immeasurably easier -- or at least has allowed me to slightly ignore them and trust that they won't die just by virtue of being out of my sight.)  But I do not want him to grow away from me.  I dread those coming hostile years when he hates me with teenage hate, and I will miss him when he moves away into his own life and has a more tangential relationship to me.  Already, in tandem with his occasional growing pains, he shifts between wanting to be a kid and hold my hand and wanting to be independent and walk a little bit away from me.  I want my own independence but never want to let that little hand go.

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