A Moment Lived at the Paradoxical Speed of Parenthood

To my youngest on the eve of his sixth birthday

Tucking him in bed, it suddenly strikes me that this marks the last night I will ever be the parent of a five-year-old. In fact, Beckett has been the object of many lasts as a dad—my last kid’s diaper, my last first word, my last trip to buy pacifiers, and if I’m being honest, my last patience at times. I cannot accurately articulate how deeply I love this wild, determined, strong son of mine.

Beckett stares at me with the same big blue eyes he has had since he was little while I place my hand on his floppy blonde hair and kiss him goodnight. “I love you so much, Beckett. When you wake up, you’ll be six!” He smiles as though I’ve just shown him a magic trick.

“Do This Little Piggy,” he requests adorably.

How can I resist? As I slowly count through his five toes, my mind recalls the years of his childhood like clicking through a Kodak Carousel slideshow. I think of who he has become in front of my very eyes.

“This little piggy went to the market.”

It feels like only yesterday that I held Nicole’s hand and encouraged her as best I could while she pushed through the pain of natural labor. We still didn’t know if our newest addition to the family would be named Jocelyn Marie or Beckett Something. Of course, we were overjoyed to welcome our third child and second boy on August 25, 2011.

After some post-labor, probably-not-the-best-time-to-have-this-conversation-decision-making, Nicole and I negotiated to bestow him with not one, but two middle names: Beckett Samuel Benjamin Cottrell. With a name like that, we had equipped him to become either a knight (“Sir Beckett” has a nice ring to it) or President (Beckett S.B. Cottrell sure would look good in the history books).

“This little piggy stayed home.”

When Beckett started smiling, we thought his jaw would soon unhinge. Mouth agape, he smiled continually, always content, usually delighted. It seemed like we had the opportunity to enjoy his baby stage most of all of our children given the fact that our other two were then potty trained and better able to help and entertain themselves. Everyone loved him immensely and could not get enough of that ridiculous, wet smile and over-sized head of his.

Two was the year, also, that he began to impress us with his reasoning skills, even when they were not always in our favor. Approaching his third birthday, we tried to coerce him into giving up his pacifier. While his brother, sister, mom, and I marched beyond him in triumphant procession, ready to applaud him as he threw it away, he held it in his hand and looked deep into the garbage can before declaring, “I’m not a big boy, I’m a baby!” He plopped the pacifier back in his mouth and ran for his bed, unprepared for the sacrifice. He won that round, as he would many others.

All things considered, Beckett’s years as a newborn, one-, and two-year-old were easy, joyous, and often hilarious.

“This little piggy ate roast beef.”

Then three came. We began to see what Beckett was really made of, his very spirit. He was no less a happy, funny little boy. But there was something deeper to him. He had an inner determination that was unlike his older siblings. We could not claim this character as his parents, for it was — and remains — entirely Other.

Among many decisions and memories, it was late at three that Beckett decided he was a pirate. Not that he would be, but that he was. The accompanying pirate hat went to prove it, both the first thing he would put on in the morning and the last thing he would take off before bedtime. When his first prized hat eventually wore out from its constant sweat and play, he followed it by another, and another, and another. It became a Beckett® trademark.

He would also talk regularly in the voice of Batman. Not Michael Keaton Batman — Christian Bale Batman. It was growly, a little frightening, and deeper than many grown men’s voices, without exaggeration. He spoke like the Bale Bat as regular as he grew in resistance to doing anything that someone else would ask of him.

Sadly, this was also the year in which Beckett hurt my feelings again and again. I’ll take sticks and stones over the words of a difficult three-year-old any day. While I made him toast one morning, he looked up and told me that he didn’t like me. Though I told him that was mean and informed him it wasn’t true, he assured me that he only liked mom and didn’t like me. This phase passed quickly enough, but ouch. Our prayers for wisdom with this one increased dramatically at this point.

“This little piggy had none.”

At four, even more of his personality revealed itself. We discovered Beckett to not only be determined, but incredibly fair. He maintains an inner desire for justice beyond anybody I have ever met. While I give some of this credit due to the innate fire and passion of his mother — my incredible wife—it reaches even beyond hers. He will not take anything from us without his siblings also receiving the same treatment. Or, even if his older brother has been hurt either emotionally or physically, Beckett is ready to deal with the perpetrators head-on. “I’m going to talk with them, this isn’t right” he has said, marching off like a soldier and judge in one compact little man.

After a particularly difficult day in which he had received the most severe discipline of his short life, he ended the night in bed far earlier than both his brother and sister. Still awake, he could hear us in the den eating ice cream and talking. He ran out, the swishing sound of his Huggies Pull-up announcing his arrival prior to his loud voice, ready to lay out the injustice.

“You all are being so mean to me. Ice cream’s my favorite. Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, I love all the flavors, and I don’t get to have any. I’m…” Not having planned much beforehand, he considered his options before quickly continuing. “I’m moving out!” He let his words sink in with us for a moment, his immediate family experiencing both smirks and shock fall upon us. I’m not going to live here anymore!” He stomped his foot down with resolve.

Fortunately, he changed his mind after a very brief discussion about where he had decided to live instead. This is to say that he is not always my last of something. He was definitely the first of my children to tell us he was moving out.

“This little piggy went…”

Beckett breathes in, anticipating what comes next as though he sits atop the world’s largest roller coaster, ready to plunge downward. As I watch him, I realize it is this last year of his life that has seemed to pass by the fastest. He has grown nicely into that big, blonde head of his. Moreover, he’s developed even greater into that strong personality and intellect of his. It has been in the last twelve months that he has most stunned us — and onlookers — over and over again.

We have seen Beckett’s merciful side flourishing, even as it frequently comes into conflict with his firmness. For example, he recently decided to become a vegetarian. This was a decision he made entirely of his own reasoning and volition, knowing nobody else who eats like this. He reached the conclusion over a few months of internal wrestling, having asked us regularly over meals what kind of animal he was digesting. Finally, he informed Nicole and me of his decision.

“I don’t want to eat dead animals anymore. It makes me sad.” We have sought to honor his noble decision, just as we try to honor all of our children’s consciences. When we visit Costco now, upon his inspection of the available samples, I overhear Beckett asking apron-clad employees one qualifying question: “Does this have dead animals in it?” (Needless to say, we’re working on the vernacular.)

In great contrast to such pacifist tendencies, Beckett has also been known to fight rather quickly. It was not so long ago that, upon receiving a spanking from me on his hand for defiantly responding to his mother, he returned the favor. I marched him to his bedroom for a sit-down heart-to-heart. “Why did you hit me,” I asked?

“I didn’t hit you,” Beckett responded, upset. “I spanked you. I’ve been wanting to spank you my whole life! You always get to spank me, why don’t I get to spank you?” (Needless to say, again, we’re working on much more than vernacular.)

To summarize or explain Beckett is an impossible task. He must be known. He deserves it. But were I to explain him in his own words, I would lean upon the recent wisdom he has generously extended not only to children, but adults: “I do whatever I want. You should do what you want, too.”

“…Wee wee wee, all the way home!”

My hand runs up his legs and torso all the way up to his cheek, tickling him the entire distance. Beckett laughs with a childlike glee that, given his independence, feels unexpected yet welcome. As quickly as my fingers counted his toes and I repeated one of his favorite nursery rhymes, six years passed. These spellbinding moments seem to move at the paradoxical speed of parenthood, simultaneously frozen in time and rushing past in a blur.

I watch Beckett in awe, both preposterously proud of and fantastically frustrated by him. Over a Valentine’s dinner tradition in which our family speaks what we love about one another to each other, I looked him in the eyes this year to profess to him, Nicole, and his siblings what I wholeheartedly believe. “Beckett, you are the most determined human I know. Whatever you set your mind to, I’m confident you can — and will — do it.” I’m not alone. Beckett has been the object of many adults’ unique fascination. How can someone so young have so much confidence, they wonder? My answer: I have no idea.

As much as there may be difficult moments and unique challenges — just as there are with any child — Beckett is my son in whom I am well pleased. I delight in him. And as much as he may have thought otherwise at the tender, tough age of three, he delights in me, as well. Recently, he has asked me nearly every day if we can go on a date together. The kids usually rotate their date time with me every week so I get a one-on-one date with them each at least once per month. But I try to sneak some extra ones in with Beckett whenever I can, even if that means vegetarian destinations. I don’t do this only because he asks me, either. As I have learned well by following this soon-to-be six-year-old who is undeniably destined for greatness — I should do what I want.