You might remember that early this summer, Alex asked for a diary. Coming out of nowhere, as it did, we figured it was a passing whim. After all, I gave him a journal for his first Reconciliation, and he hadn’t written a single word in it.

1st day school 039 smallBut he was quite insistent. Patient, but insistent. Every week or two this summer, he asked if we’d ordered his diary yet. (It has to have a lock, you know.) So finally we ordered one.

He has written in this diary once or twice a day ever since it arrived. He’s made it quite clear that it is not for other eyes, but at times he can’t help himself; he has to share a bit, and tell everybody else (repeatedly) how much they’re missing. Like his rules for the spy club.

“And the first sentence I wrote in it is the most secret thing of all,” he told me yesterday.

“Will you stop it?” I said, laughing. “You want it to be secret and you’re making us all really curious!”

He froze for just a moment. Obviously that had never occurred to him. “Okay,” he said, and buried his nose in his diary again.

I took a minute just to look at him, this boy who is all arms and legs and increasing mystery. One of the truisms of parenting is that from the moment they’re born, life is about learning to let go of them. Alex’s desire for a locked diary underscores how great the distance already is between me and the child who barely left my side for the first two years of his life–even to sleep.

Those babymoon months, before Julianna came along, he was my whole world, and having waited so long for him, I embraced the all-encompassing world of attachment parenting. I remember going to see the third Star Wars prequel without him; by the time Luke and Leia were being given to their adoptive families, my entire body was crying out to be home.

None of my other babies have been parented quite so intimately. There’s the requisite splitting of attention, and with Nicholas’ arrival the onset of what Christian calls “zone defense,” although speaking personally, I’d been outnumbered for a couple of years before that. And I’ve changed in that time too, a gradual metamorphosis from stay-at-home mom to write-at-home mom. All of these things mean distance.

The younger ones demand so much more attention and time. A toilet-training toddler is self-explanatory, but it’s more than that. Nicholas, for instance, is the kind of child who says and does absolutely everything that passes through his brain. You might wonder why he thought of it, but what is not a question.

August 2013 004 smallAlex has never been that way, but more now than ever I see him growing into a private, deeply thoughtful young man. And naturally, the more he holds inside, the more I long to get in his head and unravel the mystery. Some people institute parent-child dates in order to facilitate closeness. I’ve been thinking about that lately, but I’ve hesitated because I felt like it would be preferential. I know I could do it with any of them, but Alex is the one I feel a need to nurture a bit. I think it may be an idea whose time has come. After all, he is nearly a mirror image of me at that age: sensitive, intensely creative (with all the good and the bad that goes along with it), and not entirely comfortable in his own skin. I know what’s coming for him with the onset of adolescence, and it ain’t pretty. I want to be his safe haven. But I have to build that relationship now.

So here’s my question for all of you today: How do/did you manage to juggle all the responsibilities in order to make it possible to interact individually, distraction-free, with your older kids when you still have demanding littles?