“The Biggest Mistake”

We remember the big moments. Cameras out, we record, first steps, nursery school graduation, a big game and college drop off. But there are so many other moments, seemingly small points in time that somehow slip away. A wise friend said to me that she could barely remember the sensation of leaning over a crib and scooping a sleepy baby into her arms, though she has four grown sons and must have lifted them up hundreds of times.

children at beach, beach vacation Looking back, I wonder if those weren’t the big moments, after all. I wish I had recorded in my mind or my camera those unnoticed minutes and hours that slipped by, the ones that I only now realize are what truly mattered. Like so many things about parenting, Anna Quindlen said it best:

But the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages six, four, and one. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.

Moments I wish I could remember:

The first time you have a coffee with your kid and enjoy this very adult ritual together. The quiet morning, the milky coffee, the two of you beginning another day together.

The first time your child is lost in a book. They cannot see or hear because a wonderful author (to whom you will always be grateful) has swept them away.

Leaving our kids at their new dorm room door is an emotional moment, but the real milestone is sometime in that first semester when they realize that, despite how ready they were to leave, how they hated us all summer and counted the days until move-in, some part of them misses home and their very own bed.

The day they show you something technological that you didn’t know. This happens at a disarmingly early age and at the same time you are overwhelmed by both pride and mild embarrassment. It is a tough to look like an idiot in front of an eight year old.

The whole process of learning and communicating is a revelation in children, but the first time your child understands an abstract concept is nothing short of miraculous. Ditto the first time she reads a word.

The first time we bathe our child and the last time.

The first time they are sick in the night and do not call for us. I learned that my parent medical license had been revoked one morning with one of my high school sons said he had been sick all night, “but didn’t want to bother me by waking me up.” This was a child who woke me up every single night for the first four years of his life. I should have marked this turn of events with applause but instead I felt a little wistful.

It is a disheartening day when your tween decides that you no longer know or understand anything. It is an equally welcome day when your twenty-something realizes that you do. I wish I had remember the day the contempt began and had the wherewithal to remind myself that it would end.

Mark Twain’s dictum may be the best thing ever written about the evolution of teens:

When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.

It is a big moment in every parent’s life the first time their child sleeps through the night. But even when this blessed day comes, they still seem to rise well before dawn. And then one day they don’t. One morning I are stood in my strangely quiet kitchen and realized that my children were still asleep in bed. It is a morning worth recalling.

The first time they go to the movies with you and sit through a full length film. It is that moment when the curtains peel back and the big screen appears, when you see your child’s eye widen in amazement. A little afraid of the dark, my kids crawled into my lap to snuggle, during a showing of Babe. It was a bigger moment for me than any show I have seen on Broadway.

The first time your child is in real trouble. It may be at school, or a ticket for speeding, or a car crash they never saw coming. In an instant their swagger is gone as the full enormity of their action bears down upon them.

The first time they keep a secret. Their first secret often entails a surprise gift for mom or dad crafted in the classroom. Prior to this they have been unable to contain themselves, spilling their every thought, and then one day they keep a secret from you. It is a seminal moment.

Each family has their own moments and for each parent they are so different. It is so easy to have them slip by, so easy to think that the big moments will be obvious when, in fact, they are not. The milestones of childhood are deceptively quiet and sometimes get lost in the noise of far more traditional celebrations or simply everyday life. Anna Quindlen says the problem is not living in the moment, failing to treasure the now over the later, and, of course, she is right. But an equally big challenge is even recognizing childhood’s important moments as they are happening.

With great thanks to our friend and photographer, TBKilman, whose beautiful images provide the illustrations for so many of our posts.  The photo above, a family “moment” is one of our favorites. 

 

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