Years ago, when Jack was my only child and about thirteen months old, in the context of a play date, a friend of mine asked of me and another mom, while the three of us were serenely watching our toddlers play, "So when do they stop being cute?" The other mom said with surprise, "Oh! Never!" My flip response was, "I guess around four or so." While I don't think she asked the question with any real seriousness, it stuck with me, and I think of it periodically as I watch my children learn and grow. Jack is now closing in on five and will go to kindergarten in the fall, and I can say, I think he is no longer cute. This isn't really as insulting as it sounds. You see, Gage is almost two. He has this cute little voice. He likes to sing songs in his own personal language, which is super cute, and when he dances in his jumping, swaying toddler way, he is so stinking cute, I could eat him up. (Incidentally, I never understood why cute kids drum up feelings of cannibalism in adults until I had my own kids.) The way Gage squats down to examine bugs and rocks and acorns is endearingly cute, and when he waves and says, "Bye-eee," to people, they always respond with, "Aw, he is soooo cute!" I remember it was that way with Jack when he was two, but now his comments and affectations inspire different feelings in me. I don't remember the last time I told Jack, "You are so cute!" But I am often in awe of his analytical ability. I'm always thinking how smart and coordinated and emotionally empathetic he is, and I tell him these things. He's become so much more complex and competent than cute. We have whole, real conversations about things that make him curious - actual give and take conversations, instead of an endless stream of his asking, "Why?" The other day, I came across a video I took of Jack holding Gage in his lap on our couch when Gage was just three weeks old. Jack was three. As he talked in his little three-year-old voice, I smiled and thought, "How cute!" That's when I realized Jack has now, to a large degree, grown out of "cute." It made me both proud of the big kid he's become and a little wistful and sad that he's lost that simplicity of toddlerhood. It also reminded me to cherish the moments of Gage's cuteness, because it will be gone all too soon.
As I look forward to the fall, when Gage will start preschool and Jack will make the big move to kindergarten in public school, I remember how scared I used to be when I thought of my little Jack going off to big, public school. I worried he was too sensitive and sweet and that big, bad kindergarten would eat him alive. Now when I think about it, I'm still a little apprehensive. I'm still concerned someone will be mean to him, or he won't feel comfortable asking the teacher for help when he needs it. But, as my cute little Jack has turned into a competent, problem-solving, resilient kid, in my heart, I know he'll be okay. I know that, even if everyone isn't always nice as pie to him, he can handle it. I know that, even if he doesn't know where the bathroom is, he'll ask. And I know that, even if he feels sad, frustrated, angry or even a little lonely from time to time at school, he'll be all right. I know that, despite any obstacles or hardships, Jack will make it through school, and not only will he be okay, but he'll be stronger for having overcome the challenges along the way. This is why it is good he is no longer just cute, because cute only gets you so far in life. The rest of it - finding real happiness and satisfaction - takes intelligence, fortitude, introspection and a sense of humor. All of which is so much more than cute.