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Karina Bland: Boy Of Many Faces
School starts next week and kids grow up fast. Here’s commentator Karina Bland.
I hand over my debit card and dip my face into the top of the to-go bag to inhale the warm garlic naan wrapped loosely in tin foil.
"Where's the baby?" Raj Rani asks.
She runs our favorite Indian restaurant, and if my son isn't with me, she always asks: "Where's the baby?"
We have been coming here since Sawyer was a baby, but now he's 15, 5-foot-11.5, often mistaken for 17, has a voice as deep as Barry White's and is shaving twice a week.
Raj Rani is the only one who calls him "baby" anymore.
When you're a new parent, people warn you about how fast children grow up, and it's true. But what they fail to tell you is how dramatic the changes are from one stage to the next. It is like the child they used to be has gone missing.
I can go years without seeing my cousins in New Zealand, and we don't change much, not in looks or manner. We're basically still the same people.
Where's the baby? I don't know. I mean, the baby I fell in love with, brought home from the hospital and got to know so well has been gone for a long time.
In his place was a familiar and just as lovable toddler who clutched Thomas the Tank Engine railcars in each hand and had his own ideas about vegetables and bedtime.
Then one day the toddler was gone, too, replaced by a small boy in a Buzz Lightyear costume who inserted "to infinity and beyond" at the end of the Pledge of Allegiance in place of "and justice for all."
Then another boy, one even taller and with huge feet, took up residency in the bedroom, shoved the stuffed animals behind the bed, and emptied his pockets of rocks and Lego minifigures in favor of a cellphone.
And then just when I got used to him, the latest version of this boy turned up this summer, responsible, suddenly knowledgeable about neurobiology and plumbing, and savvy enough to navigate public transportation.
The teenage Sawyer is smart, kind and funny.
I like his growing independence. I like watching him discover new interests and hearing his thoughts on current events and politics. It makes for much more interesting dinner conversation than when he was 8 and on a run of knock-knock jokes.
But I can’t read him as well as I could when he was younger to know what he needed or what he was feeling. I'm not sure he always knows either.
Come here. Go away.
I’ve got this. Help me!
I love you. I hate you.
Sometimes at the same time.
Sawyer used to plop his foot in my lap, the universal sign for "Tie my shoe."
Now what he drops in my lap are questions about girls, rational numbers, college, whether there is any scientific research supporting his 10 p.m. bedtime and how people could have stood by and let the Holocaust happen.
I don't have all the answers anymore. The 1,600-piece Lego Star Wars Sandcrawler set seems easy now.
Soon enough Sawyer will be driving. For now, I’m still dropping him off at school, a routine I think I will actually miss.
He grabs his backpack out of the back of the car, mumbles "byemomloveyou," and is gone. He doesn’t ever look back.
I’ll try not to either.
Karina Bland writes the column “My So-Called Midlife” for the Arizona Republic.