Re­al­iza­tion that child­hood is fleet­ing

Dif­fer­ent feel­ings for dif­fer­ent stages of your kids’ lives

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FAMILY -

At a lun­cheon last win­ter, I sat next to a wo­man whose son, a high school ju­nior, was about to go to Ja­pan for four months. It was a spe­cial honor to be cho­sen for the pro­gram, and she was beam­ing with pride. She was over­whelmed a bit by the preparation for such a once-in-a-life­time op­por­tu­nity, but her at­ti­tude was mostly one of en­thu­si­asm and sil­ver lin­ings: “Four months of free­dom!” she gaily chirped. “I’ll miss him, but I’m ac­tu­ally look­ing for­ward to it.”

By co­in­ci­dence, at this year’s lun­cheon (it’s an an­nual event) she and I were seated at the same ta­ble. This time, she told my table­mates about a re­cent “col­lege night” at her son’s school, where she was hit by the sud­den re­al­iza­tion that he would soon be out of the house, not for four months, but for­ever. This time, over­come with emo­tion and wip­ing her eyes with her nap­kin, she sobbed, “I just can’t believe I’m al­most done. My baby is al­most out the door.”

Af­ter­ward, I thought about what she must’ve been feel­ing. But it was hard for me to truly grasp. With my own three chil­dren in first and third grades, I iden­tify more with her dis­po­si­tion last year, when her boy was off on a grand, but tem­po­rary, ad­ven­ture.

From the time you click “post” on the first scrunched-face pic­ture of your new­born baby, friends, fam­ily and Face­book­ers be­gin telling you to en­joy these early years, be­cause it all goes by so fast.

“Don’t blink,” they warn you. “It’ll be over be­fore you know it.”

In­tel­lec­tu­ally, you know they’re right. Af­ter all, child­hood is of­fi­cially about 18 years, while adult­hood — as­sum­ing we live to at least age 85 — is 67 years or more. I’m not great at math, but even I can cal­cu­late that we’re adults nearly four times longer than we’re kids.

Still, when you’re in the mid­dle of it — night feed­ings, di­a­per changes, day­care pay­ments, food aver­sions, tem­per tantrums, home­work help, travel sports, so­cial anx­i­ety, pre­teen sul­len­ness, teen re­bel­lion and on and on — get­ting through child­hood can feel so very, very long.

Some days, when I’ve put in a full day’s worth of work be­fore even walk­ing through the doors of my pay­ing job, only to turn around and face af­ter-care pick-up, din­ner, home­work as­sis­tance, pi­ano prac­tice over­see­ing, melt­down man­ag­ing, show­ers, story time and kitchen clean-up when I get home, I feel like I’ve logged one cal­en­dar day but three emo­tional ones.

Right now, my life as a par­ent is firmly planted in the “days are long” half of that oft-heard say­ing.

The mom sit­ting next to me, cry­ing about the joy­ous but bit­ter­sweet process of se­lect­ing col­leges for her high school se­nior — she’s crossed over to the “but the years are short” part.

She’s re­mem­ber­ing the times snug­gling her son close while he slept, not the times he wailed un­til the wee hours and re­fused to sleep at all. She’s nos­tal­gic for the goofy grin caused by lost teeth, not the stony face of a chas­tised teen who lost the car keys — again.

It’s one thing to know that her hard work is cul­mi­nat­ing: All the teach­ing, en­cour­ag­ing, hand-hold­ing, prod­ding. All the tears spent, all the bud­gets blown. But it’s an­other thing to know that the young man who ben­e­fit­ted from all that hard work is em­bark­ing on an even grander ad­ven­ture — one that, as time ticks on, will in­volve her less and less.

In the car on the way home from the lun­cheon, I re­mem­bered a mo­ment re­cently when I was help­ing my 8-year-old son mois­tur­ize his dry skin with coconut oil. We were rush­ing, as usual, and I was surely think­ing of other things when I no­ticed some­thing that made my breath catch. Fine hairs had sprouted on his skinny legs, in­ter­rupt­ing the smooth brown with soft, black hints of an ado­les­cence to come.

Re­call­ing the sur­prise of that mo­ment, it dawned on me: Time is mov­ing so much faster than I re­al­ize.

I felt for my­self the pang that must be in her heart. And the tears fell — for her, and for me, and for the short years that are al­ready, too soon be­hind us.

Tanika Davis is a for­mer Bal­ti­more Sun re­porter who works in com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Con­stel­la­tion. She and her hus­band have twin 8-year-old sons, a 6-year-old daugh­ter, a per­pet­u­ally messy house and rapidly ap­pear­ing gray hairs. She also needs a nap. She can be reached at [email protected] Her col­umn ap­pears monthly.

Colum­nist Tanika Davis, whose sons are 8 years old, writes that she still iden­ti­fies with the first half of the say­ing, “the days are long, but the years are short.”

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