There are moments that come in life, big moments wrapped in their own, exclusive epiphany, when suddenly and with not a whole lot of buildup, you realize everything is changed. When you’re a parent, those moments too often involve your children.
Last month I experienced one of those moments.
I should probably admit right now that I am a man given to what I can only assume is an unnatural amount of observational analysis where my children are involved.
Blame it on a lifetime of friendly lectures and sappy movies warning me to “enjoy them while they are young,” but I cannot help but worry that, at some instant while I am busy doing the dishes or hollering at them about the deleterious effect of bobby pins on vacuum sweepers, they will suddenly and without warning become the sort of person whose company I just cannot enjoy — say Adolph Hitler or that eldest sister from “One Day at a Time.”
It hasn’t happened yet, but I worry nevertheless.
What has happened, and with increasing regularity, are a variety of those smaller moments when you realize your child is not as childish as you would like. They can be good moments, a flash mid-conversation that you’re actually having an intelligent discussion on Manifest Destiny with the same kid you once had to instruct not to lick strange screen doors.
Or they can be rougher moments, like the one I sat through last month.
By way of background, let me explain that my eldest will start high school next year. At her school, parents are invited in toward the end of the eighth grade to discuss their schedules, not just for the coming year, but for the entirety of their high school career.
That part’s bad enough, but then Mills Child 1 informed me she would also need to address what kind of college she planned to attend and what she will major in when she gets there. In other words, before she has even finished middle school, she is expected to map out a life path that will see her well into her 20s.
The flash that followed that particular revelation played out like a scene from one of those aforementioned sappy movies. Suddenly the skinny, freckled teen sitting across from me at the kitchen table was in high school, then it’s cap and gown and off to some far-away college where I’m left with weekly calls and holiday visits.
Next thing you know she’s finishing up graduate school and taking a job somewhere equally far away and I’m left with nothing of my little girl but memories and the crippling debt of her college loans.
I realize there are worse things that can happen. I understand that the very thing I fear is what many parents would consider a fantasy scenario. But there’s a big difference between knowing something and accepting it. I’m having a tough time with the acceptance part.
Thankfully, those moments of fear and realization pass as quickly as they come. Within a few minutes, my 14-year-old was back to discussing boys and panda bears and all things of import to the early teen set.
Her sister chipped in too, rambling on about some hilarious dialogue between two fellow sixth-graders before sliding effortlessly into a scene-by-scene analysis of last week’s episode of “Hannah Montana.” And just like that, I realized I have at least four more years until the eldest is ready for college and another three before her sister takes off. Even then, I’m fairly positive I’ll get them home on a fairly regular basis, if only for the laundry facilities.
The more I consider it, the more I think the “enjoy them while they’re young” crowd might be a bit off. Sure, I miss the pink babies and towheaded toddlers they used to be, but I enjoy the teenage girls they’re turning into and something tells me I’m really going to like the adults they eventually become.
That’s not to say I’m in any rush to see that day come. I may learn to accept the fact that my girls are getting older, but that doesn’t mean I have to encourage it.