When you have a baby, you are (usually) convinced it can never get more challenging than it seems at the beginning. The sleepless nights. The worries that something is wrong with your kid. The anxiety that she will stop breathing in the middle of the night. I certainly felt that way the first few months or even years with J.
At some point, though, even when things continued to become challenging in different ways, somewhere deep down I knew things were going to get a lot harder. I knew that eventually my little kid would grow up and have bigger issues. After all, my mom was fond of saying, "Little kids, little problems; bigger kids, bigger problems."
As my baby grew into a preteen, there was the stress of grades. Too much homework. Trouble with girls ignoring her. The disappointment of a boy not liking her. Now that she is entering 7th grade, I know that in addition to those challenges, all the "big" scary things are not too far away.
Recently on FB, I wrote about how I was surprised a family comedy from the mid '90s showed 7th graders thinking that other 7th graders had sex (they did not actually). A few friends told me that, yes, it does happen (and I am sure they were laughing at how naive I am). Knowing my child as well as I do, I think I can safely say it won't happen to her that young. But I am also not fool enough to think I can feel this safe for years on end. After all, I saw some 8th graders making out at the school dance a couple of months ago. Lord knows what else goes on!
The same with drinking and drugs. I am 99 percent sure that when I was in Catholic school (through 8th grade) only one person drank. It just never occurred to most of us. I think the same is true for most of the kids in J's class. But, again, I am sure some kids in the school do drink. And I know the kids who start 7th grade sure as hell won't be the same kids leaving 7th grade.
Then there is my biggest fear of all: drugs. I have a 30-something cousin who has been off and on drugs for 20 years. I have seen him strung out. I have seen circles under his eyes that were so black, that I can never get the picture out of my head (10 years later). I have read about him in the paper. I have seen him connected to tubes and machines in intensive care. I have heard a nurse tell me that his heart stopped and he did chest compressions to save him (spoiler alert: paddles are not really/so much used like you see on TV). But I have also seen him fight his way back to sobriety. I am writing here, for the very first time, that I don't have a lot of faith that he will ultimately win. I put his chances of "complete recover" at about 5 to 10 percent. But not 0 percent.
I like to think that J, who has never seen said cousin at his worst, but knows a little about what has happened to him, will keep his life in her thoughts the first time someone offers her a drug. Even marijuana (which is still not legal in PA, and certainly not legal for a minor). But who among us does not know someone who complained bitterly as a child about her parent smoking who now smokes a half pack a day?
I know I have a little time to enjoy the innocence. A lot of parent lost that when their children were much younger.
So I am going to continue embracing the land of sunshine and lollipops for as long as I can. I am going to be glad my child has never kissed a boy (though sad for her that she has never had a "boyfriend" by grade school standards). I am going to thank the Lord and my lucky stars that drinking at this young age seems ludicrous to her. I am going to be glad that she is not on FB and Instagram (though at almost 12 and with most of her classmates having been on there for years, I might give in to the latter.). And I am going to try to be less annoyed when she gets mad at me when I cuss, because it reminds me of how innocent she still is.
Because before too long, those bigger-kid, much bigger problems will probably surface with a vengeance.