Family / Parenting

What a Difference a Decade Makes Levi met the new neighbors first, a young Japanese mother and her 2-year-old son, her first-born and only child, walking down the street. Being the dog-reborn-as-boy in the family, Levi trotted out to the sidewalk wagging his tail to greet new playmates and sniff crotches (metaphorically of course). The little boy was about the best new toy Levi could have ever wanted and invited mom and son to play on his swing set in our backyard.

I arrived to find Levi making goofy faces at the toddler on our swing, his mother right behind him holding her hands on either side of him in case he fell. The little boy was laughing that unrestrained, infectious baby laugh that left him breathless. Mom was laughing nervously as Levi moved closer to the boy, growing a little louder and more animated to maximize laughter.

Asher soon joined Levi in his game, “Make the Kid Laugh.” Mom and I chatted for a bit with all of the getting-to-know-you niceties. She spoke slowly, selecting each word in English carefully and making every effort to pronounce them properly.

While we talked, Asher and Levi decided to move from swing to slide and convinced the little boy to join them. Well, that boy couldn’t wait to do what the big kids were doing, to the horror his mother who was sure he’d never be able to climb up the slide. I could tell her heart was in her throat as she watched her little boy attempt things he had never done before that day. As my boys grew more comfortable with their new plaything, they also grew more rambunctious. They climbed on top of each other, running up and down the slide, narrowly missing their new friend. They wrestled and yelled and threw in some choice language just for flavor. Neighbor mom moved closer to her son and remained inches away from him while he insisted on playing with the big boys.

I tried to intervene as often as I could, reminding the boys that they were much bigger than their new friend and that they needed to be more careful and quieter. She smiled politely, but I could see how uncomfortable she was whenever my big boys charged past her son.



“It’s because I’m Japanese,” she said as if apologizing. “We are very protective.” But, I remember being Japanese, too, when Asher was my one and only. The playground was a minefield of loud, aggressive children who were sure to traumatize my timid son. They were wild beasts compared to my little lamb, and I was convinced that he would be eaten alive. My children were not those typical, roughhousing boys.

And now I am the mother of those wild beasts. I see myself in my neighbor’s eyes as the mother who cannot control her children, who lets them terrorize small, defenseless babies. I wanted to say, “Just wait! You’ll see,” but the words would have been wasted. She’ll have to grow with her child just as I grew with mine.

One day, her son will be ten years old, and she’ll wonder how her baby became his own person. She’ll try to remember him when he was two, and she might look through old photos only to see how much he has changed. Then she’ll examine herself in those photos and realize how much she has evolved, too. And she’ll breathe a satisfied breath and look forward to the next ten years.


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  1. Time changes everything. I remember being a first time mother of a two year old and next month that baby boy turns 13 and the intervening years have been very different than I could have imagined. Not bad. Just different.

    • Before you know it, he’ll be driving! The last thing I want to do is imagine our boys driving. ((shivers))

  2. This is lovely. But I’m sorry I didn’t get you know you when you were Japanese.

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