It’s not so funny, how time flies.
This isn’t going to be one of those sentimental, “where did the time go?” essays about how quickly children grow. I won’t be reminding any new parents that “the days are long but the years are short.” As I barrel into the Fall of my oldest child’s senior year in high school, I’ll simply observe that I’m a little sad and slightly baffled that our time together in this particular phase of her life is (already) almost done.
We were heading home from the airport after yet another college visit, and as I gazed out the window of the cab, I told her, very simply, “I can’t believe it’s over.” She cried and knew exactly what I meant. She’s a little stunned herself, but just so excited to be moving on to the great, fun, adventure-filled unknown of college, she doesn’t have the time or inclination to pause and reflect on it as much as I do.
She came to us in the first year of marriage, born on our first wedding anniversary, a fact that still delights in the story telling. Like every first-time parent, we thought the sun rose and set on her chubby face. There was a worshipful tone to our parenting – it was if we had invented the wheel. I note this exhausted awe and fanatical caretaking in first time parents I encounter now, and it gives me a pang of recognition.
In those early days, you cannot possibly imagine them growing up and moving away. Length of life is measured in days, weeks and months, with finger snaps and wide-eyed wonder, “just like that!” Every waking moment is devoted to keeping them alive and entertained, obsessing over details of diet, toileting and development. Every milestone is documented and celebrated with over-the-top exuberance. Educated, grounded adults lose their minds a little bit. I’ve seen it, I’ve lived it.
Instinctively you know you have 18 years – such a long time – to enjoy this child. You can luxuriate in the expanse of time, letting go of the many small parenting failures, knowing you have plenty of opportunities to make up for them. And sometimes, on the frequent hard days, those days when you look at the clock and see that it is still hours till bedtime, you wonder if you’ll actually make it through in one piece.
And then the inevitable “you blink and a decade has flown by” moments happen. Double digits, middle school, sweet sixteen, first day of senior year. Just like the phenomenon (real or imagined) of the car’s gas tank draining faster when the needle drops below a quarter tank, the years fly by in a flurry of college visits and high school parties.
And here we are. Standing on the precipice, days from submitting applications to colleges far and wide. She’ll get in to some of them, or at least one (which is all she needs). And the remainder of the year will be spent in feverish anticipation and planning for the ending of one thing, and the beginning of something else.
Those two decades, the years she was growing and becoming this kind, empathetic person whom I admire so much – what were those years in my life? The end of my youth, the beginning of the solid middle. She grew up and I grew outward and inward, into a fully formed version of the person who took the path that led me to this particular life, this set of circumstances. This part of our journey is ending. I say this without bitterness, but with sincere head scratching puzzlement. How did we get here?
We got here through the mundane, mind-numbing day-to-day and the special, celebratory milestones, and every day in between. We got here without a lot of fanfare but with a good dose of frustration, fretting and humor. I hope we have examined this opportunity we were given, faced the challenges with grace and appreciated the privilege of it all. These are lessons you can’t tell a new parent – the years need to be lived, the time needs to be spent. Until the time is over. Just like that.
Natalie Silverstein is an author, editor, volunteer and passionate advocate for family service. Her first book, Simple Acts: The Busy Family’s Guide to Giving Back, will be published by Gryphon House on April 1, 2019. She is the New York Coordinator of Doing Good Together, a national nonprofit with the mission of helping parents raise kids who care and contribute. She is also a member of the Writer’s Rock in NYC. She lives in New York with her husband and three kids, the oldest of whom is almost grown and ready to fly. Find her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.