Big kids are awesome

Originally Appeared in : 9903-1/31/19

Our son Henry got braces last week, which instantly aged him by at least three years. He went into the appointment looking like our sweet youngest son and emerged a few hours later, mouth full of metal, looking rather “teenager-y.”


I sent a picture of Henry and his new smile to our family group chat.


“He grew up right before our eyes,” said college sophomore Elliott.


The best part of this entire morning was that Henry was escorted to this momentous occasion by oldest brother Ethan. Due to a series of unavoidable conflicts, I was left with the option of either canceling the appointment or seeing if one of the big boys could bring Henry. I could meet them there before everything was done, but if they could get him there and get started that would be great.


So I left Henry at home and Ethan picked him up and brought him to get braces. At one point, I texted to see how Henry was doing. Ethan told me Henry had been a little nervous but was doing great. By the time I arrived, Henry had survived the whole ordeal with his big brother there to keep him brave.


I reflect on these crazy life experiences a lot lately — life with bigger kids and how amazing it is. I think teenagers and college kids sometimes get a bad rap, and perhaps when you are a momma with lots of little kids you look at these lumbering pre-adults (big kids you see at the mall or the neighborhood pool or at church) and it’s easy to be completely freaked out by them.


When my boys were little, I remember being really intimidated by those big kids at the pool who would run around being loud and carrying on. I had my crew of small humans locked up in the baby pool area, and the bigger pool with the bigger kids seemed like a different universe.


I remember the day I had an “out of body” experience with that shift from small kids to big. I was sitting in a leather chair outside of a dressing room while Ethan was trying on teenager-y clothes in a teenager-y clothes shop. 


“Holy cow,” I remember thinking. “I’m one of those moms now.”


Just like that, it seemed, I went from chasing diaper-clad swimmers to giving the okay on which khakis, jeans and polo shirts fit best.


And I thought that was it. I thought that clothes shopping with teenagers would be the outer-edge of strange life experiences with your own kids getting bigger.


Until that day last week, when my man-child oldest son took my youngest son to get braces. And I met them there, and it all went beautifully.


After that, as a small thank you payment to Ethan, I took him and Henry to lunch. There we sat, the three of us, and at one point Ethan started talking to me about something he was going through, something really excellent and wonderful. He referred back to a time a few years ago when life for him was not really excellent, when he was in the middle of working through some things and questioning a lot. 


I marveled at this moment, the beauty of getting to experience the joy of where my son is now, in part because of the suffering he endured a few years ago.


Parenting is hard in small part because sometimes, when our kids are struggling, we exactly don’t know what lessons they are learning. We don’t have guarantees of where this suffering will take them, of what getting through it will mean. And then after some time in the darkness, we see the light. They see the light. The light shines down, and we move forward from there.


Things just get better. I want to say that without reserve, but we all know that’s a risky statement. But I have found that to be true. When my children were all very, very small I was afraid of the future. I thought my kids getting bigger would be the end of something.


It is, in many ways. But the end of one thing signals the beginning of something else. And each time I think we are at the end (the end of diapers, the end of elementary, the end of high school) — that end actually signals the beginning of something even more wonderful.


A son old enough to help me bring his younger brother to get braces? I would have never thought. How great is that?


Rachel Swenson Balducci is a freelance writer and member of Most Holy Trinity Church, Augusta. She can be reached at

Go to top