I am at my son’s college today for “Parent’s Weekend.” (How I have a kid in college already I do not know, but that’s for another post.)
Anyway, I was outside our hotel this morning when I spotted a young father with his son. They were all dressed up in game day spirit wear, and the little boy, maybe 18 months old, was the spitting image of my college son at that age. It made me stop in my tracks and instantly sent my mind back almost two decades.
The little boy was squatting in front of the hotel’s nicely landscaped flower beds, slowly picking petals off the flowers. “One, two, three,” he counted, in a sweet tiny toddler voice. The dad was reaching for him and saying, “No, we don’t pick the flowers. Stop, we don’t do that.”
You could tell he was a first time father, hovering closely over his toddler, pointing out and slowly naming the colors of the flowers and the sky, but also keeping a watchful and worrying eye on the little guy, gripping the boy’s hand tightly. A dad who is always watching – I ‘d seen that before.
This dad and this little boy were my husband and me about 17 years ago.
I wanted to stop and tell this father so many things. So many things!
I wanted to tell him that just last week, I had a son that age – a curious little boy who was my whole world – but now that same son is here at college. That’s how fast it went.
I wanted to tell him that all the things he is worrying about, all those important childhood milestones that he is there to ensure successfully happen, will happen whether he worries about them or not. So stop worrying about them.
I wanted to tell him that his son will get hurt, fail tests, quit sports, and start again. I wanted to tell him his son will talk back, slam doors, cry hard and laugh harder. I wanted to tell him that his son will head to his room one night with a squeaking voice, and come out the next sounding like a man. I wanted to tell him little boys grow up fast, overnight almost, and the toy cars he pushes around the kitchen floor this week will soon become the real car he drives away in the next.
I wanted to tell him to stop blinking, and to keep his eyes wide open because long days turn into fleetingly fast years.
I wanted to tell him that he is going to think he is failing his son. That there will be hundreds of nights ahead where he and his wife will lay awake at night, tears in their eyes, emotionally and physically exhausted, and whispering to each other, “What are we doing to this kid? How are we doing this?”
But mostly, I wanted to go up to him and say, “Let him pick the flowers.”
And watch him. Watch him squat his chubby thighs close to the ground, and with plump little fingers pick the petals off the flowers. “One, two, three….”
And freeze that moment in your mind.
Because right now, my little boy who was picking flowers for me last week is here at college, and it takes all of my mental power for me to remember him as a toddler.
ALL OF IT.
And sometimes, that memory, is sadly just not there. I can’t find it. I can’t remember it. Did it happen?
Today, let your little boy pick the flowers, and instead of saying “Stop, we don’t do that,” say “Thank you! Oh I love them!”
Then take that flower, dry it, and save it someplace safe and special.
Because it will help you remember that moment 18 years from now. I promise, you’re gonna need it.
Never Again Will I: A View From the Empty Nest
Family Weekend: Do’s and Don’ts of Visiting Your Kid in College
How to Make Your Next College Care Package Your Best Yet
More by Melissa Fenton:
Leadership Roles: If Everyone is Leading, Who is Following?
Soiling the Nest: What’s Good About Teens Being Bad
Melissa Fenton is a freelance writer and adjunct librarian. Find her writing all over the internet, but her work mostly on the dinner table. She is on Facebook at 4BoysMother and on twitter at @melissarunsaway.