I had planned to tell you all about #1’s graduation from elementary school this past Friday- a lighthearted yet poignant anecdote to share with you just how quickly time has flown.
I’ll still tell you about it, but forgive me if this post lacks the usual humor. I’m not feeling it. (I’ll explain.)
I will say that, yes, it is a cliche to say that time flies when your kids are little, and yes, that cliche is true. I can’t believe that it’s already been eleven years since this:
There are those milestones that really strike you as defining moments in parenthood, and obviously graduations are one of them. I know that a sixth grade graduation may not seem like a big deal -I honestly didn’t think it would affect me as deeply as it did- but it’s the realization that your baby is not a baby anymore. Your baby is leaving the safe, Crayola confines of elementary school and embarking into the messy, dramatic world of pseudo-adolescence.
This feels like a span of about two months…..
I started feeling those emotions earlier in the week. It just all went so.damn.fast. And the feelings were complicated by remorse- I was so busy these past few years raising a whole crew of little people, absorbed with my dying father & the aftermath of that, and just, well, more kids. I feel like #1’s early school years were awash in chaos and distraction.
The evening before graduation, I had a moment. I was in my backyard, watering my plants. I overheard the neighbor behind my home out in his yard, having a catch with his daughter. He was teaching her how to throw- patiently & enthusiastically.
It was SUCH an beautiful, simple moment.
Now, although I’ve seen my neighbors before, I’ve never met them personally (In the interest of privacy, I won’t give their name.). They live around the block, and although our school circles are similar, I’ve never come into direct contact with them before. But they’re a cute couple with four beautiful kids, and I’ve seen the dad walking with his son to the schoolyard, lacrosse sticks in hand. Always with a smile, too.
This father-daughter moment made such a deep impression on me. I’m not even sure why.
I felt guilt; The Captain and I are often so harried and/or exhausted that it’s been too long since we’ve invested in those outdoor fun bonding moments.
I felt melancholy; knowing how fast time is going, and how even though #1 is only 11 now, in a blink of an eye she’ll be twice that.
I felt a heart-softening; in this day and age, it seems like good dads, REALLY good dads, are a precious commodity. And I was humbled to listen to one. It wasn’t for “show”- just he and his little girl.
I mentioned it in my journal that night, reminding myself of how important it is to invest that time into the kids, impressed by this dad’s example. My words:
“He was teaching his daughter, bonding with her. Because he made the time. They played, together. He was as much into the moment as she was, and you could hear it in his voice. It reminded me that those moments are the most meaningful. Life is short, and our time as a family is finite. I’m thankful for the lesson: to stop and ENJOY the process. PLAY right alongside the kids.”
Graduation was the next night; despite the oppressive heat of a crowded gymnasium, it was a beautiful affair. And just like that, #1 had morphed from my tiny firstborn toddler into a wonderful, mature would-be junior higher.
My neighbors were there; I even pointed them out to my mother. “See? That’s the family that lives behind me that I told you about. They seem so amazing. Just had a baby, too.”
Two days later, I found out that my neighbor, this wonderful father, was killed in a freak accident at work.
I can’t begin to describe the sense or despair and horror I feel for his wife and children. I can’t even begin to imagine what they are going through. It haunted me all weekend, reducing me to tears at the very thought.
People who knew him well had similar beautiful compliments about him: “He was such a kind man.” “Such a family man.” “One of a kind…”
We all have a public persona that we maintain, and many people could say such things about us as well. But there in his yard, having a private moment with his daughter, the real character of SF shone through. And it was every bit as golden as his friends claimed. Better, even. Because at that moment, he wasn’t on display for the public. It was his real heart, bonding in a real, precious way, with his little girl. A little girl who will, when she thinks of him, remember those loving moments, and will never forget what an amazing man she was blessed to have as a father.
I share this with you because in light of everything I was feeling this week, this horrible event made me think about (my) parenting in a new light.
We love our kids. From the time they’re born, we nurture them, dote on them, protect them, and worry about them. You know the moments when you’ve read of a child’s death and the residual sadness you feel, because every child now could be yours? Think of those moments, when a tragedy occurs -like Sandy Hook, for example- and you hug your child harder. You stop & think that life is precious- never to be taken for granted. What if that were, God forbid, YOUR child?
But, on the flip side…. your OWN mortality. The idea that, in a moment, it can all be over. That reality, more than anything, was what gripped me. I thought about it- if I were to die tomorrow, what memories have I left my kids? What memories would bring them comfort? What blessings would I have given them in terms of my love, my teaching, and my example? What would be their last impression of me, a moment to carry and preserve?
I didn’t know my neighbor personally, but I wish I did. I know even from those brief glimpses of him with his kids on the street, or out in their yard, that he was a man who loved being a dad. He loved his kids so much. And I bet that love was equally devotional to his wife, because he seemed to thrive on being a family man. And his example -just a mere moment that I was blessed to happen to overhear- made me rethink so much about what I say and do with my kids.
I can’t slow time down. I can’t predict my own mortality, or anyone else’s, for that matter. But I CAN savor each day as it comes. I can make sure that in the midst of the busyness, I slip in those moments- the simple, beautiful moments that let each child know how much I love them, how proud of them I am, and how grateful I am to be their mom.
I know, I know- this is some deep, dark stuff. But in light of #1’s graduation and the idea of time passing quickly, it’s a potent reminder that each day with our children matters. Those big, special moments, like graduations, and those tiny, precious moments, too. I’m thankful for the chance, each & every day, to appreciate my loved ones.
In memory of SF. Gone too soon, but a life so well lived.
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