At the end-of-year exhibition, the mom takes in the rows of tri-fold boards manned by eager students. In their khakis and blazers and spring dresses the 4th graders look like the adults they will someday become. “Promise you’ll come back to the Lower School to visit us,” the teacher says, and the mom is suddenly overwhelmed by a sadness she can’t explain.
You want the truth about watching your kids grow up? I think you can handle it.
When your kids are small, there are days when you question if they will ever reach adulthood. This is because you question if tomorrow will ever arrive: time with little kids often passes so slowly. On a typical day you may get up, change a diaper, serve breakfast, get everyone dressed, play a game, go for a walk, watch a show. And then look beseechingly at the clock . . . only to discover that it is 8:30am.
Little kid misadventures also seem to take a remarkably long time, like a toddler tantrum in the middle of the checkout line at the Harris Teeter. You are stuck in helpless slow-mo while your child summons the attention of all shoppers in the store with his own personal shrieking PA system. As this drama unfolds the grandmother behind you in line helpfully remarks that these are the best days of your life.
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In those moments, it is so easy to wish away the time. How much longer before he can dress himself, until she can run her own bath, until he can pack his own lunch? Please, soon!
When my youngest was finishing four-day-fours, thus ending our preschool career, I was chomping at the bit to wrap that scene up. The following year he would join his brother at “big school,” a move that would simplify my life immensely. I was not one of those weepy moms lamenting the end of an era. The whole point was for them to grow up! I skipped into the end-of-year party with a triumphant smile.
We nibbled on cookies and drank lemonade and gathered up my son’s artwork and lunchbox and his change-of-clothes Ziploc. And then it was time for a brief class video. I’m loving the sound of that, friends, especially the “brief” part. Bring it!
As the room filled with the sound of Darius Rucker’s song “It Won’t Be Like This For Long,” the faces of our sweet kids filled the screen. They were so eager and wide-eyed, and so very happy. The heartbreaking tune combined with those precious images was almost too much. I was transfixed, and felt a keen shame for not properly valuing this significant milestone. And then, as promised, it was over.
In a week that little four-year-old boy will finish up his fourth grade year. His older brother turned thirteen last week. The time that has passed is now more than what we have left together. This realization takes my breath away.
And so I have become a cliché, the pensive parent who speaks longingly of yesteryear. I am so thankful for the funny, smart, and kind young people my kids have become, and I am humbled by the knowledge that this is probably as much in spite of me as it is because of me. There are certainly days when I am ready for the next best thing, but the truth is, when it comes to loving and appreciating your family, there really is no time like the present.
Want a better handle on watching them grow up? Sorry, I got nothing. But if you want to wallow in your wistfulness, check out Jim Croce’s blast from the past Time in a Bottle, croon along to Harry Chapin’s classic Cat’s in the Cradle, and hear the ditty by Darius Rucker that brought me to my knees.