Last summer, my husband and his three siblings gathered for 48 hours to be with his parents, given that their dad had experienced some health scares. It was a special gathering for everyone, particularly since in this case, it was just the original siblings—no spouses or children. They realized that they hadn’t all been together in their original family form for almost 30 years, since the older siblings started getting married and having babies. It made me realize how special our time is with our kids while we have them, because once they go off to college and then marry and have their own families, it’s never quite the same. I remember when my kids were babies, and I was endlessly nursing the little one and reading to both of them, balancing them on my rocker as their little bodies squiggled to see the pages. An older friend of mine who had teens at the time, said, “I would give anything to have those days again.” Even though I was exhausted from the constant diapers and tantrums, I got what she meant. This was a sweet time in our lives, when our little ones were so happy to snuggle up on our laps and devour the next picture book. I remember when my son Will would flap his arms in excitement as a baby every time I read Where Is Baby’s Belly Button? He loved that book so much, just as my daughter loved Mo Mo Goes to the City so much that she literally tried to eat it, by pulling off the tabs that moved the images and putting them in her mouth. I remember taking my kids on “nature walks” through our neighborhood with special buckets to pick up treasures. What I loved was how unhurried those days were. We lay on our backs to watch the clouds moving and would hug trees since “trees need love too.”
As my kids got older, my son wore capes for years to keep away bad guys and my daughter dressed up as princesses. (Just for the record, I would have been fine with the roles reversed.) We had a lot of tea parties and the kids dressed up all the time in different costumes. And then it was play dates and special snacks, and performances in the basement and clubs formed, like the Clementine Club, in which anyone could join if they were in 1st grade and loved clementines. There was learning to read, and discovering best friends. Then sleep-overs and soccer games and school plays. And now that my kids are 14 and 12, I love having their friends over, hearing about their lives, and enjoying the sound of loud laughter emerging from the basement, while the kids play Wii or shoot nerf guns. My job is to provide endless food and catch a glimpse into their lives. Getting to know my kids’ friends, who are smart and interesting people, makes me feel hopeful about the world.
The reality is that ever since my kids were babies, their lives has been expanding every year to include more of the world that doesn’t include me or my husband. We don’t really know what goes on at school, beyond what our kids and their teachers tell us. It’s their world, not ours. Camp is their own world, just as their activities are, as it should be. And increasingly the best way to find out about their lives is to take long car rides without electronics. Even on short rides, they start talking about their lives, even if I do have to listen to awful R&B-infused pop in the background as they are talking.
There’s a good country song called “You’re Gonna Miss This” which takes a teenage girl who can’t wait to grow up, through learning to drive, then her first apartment, then babies, and always wishing for the next stage. The chorus of the song is: “You’re gonna miss this/ You’re gonna want this back/You’re gonna wish these days hadn’t gone by so fast/These are some good times/So take a good look around/You may not know it now/
But you’re gonna miss this.” I love this sentiment because it echoes what I’ve tried to remind myself throughout my life. I’m going to miss this so I better pay attention.
As my husband and I get ready to take our kids to Portugal and Spain, we are grateful for the opportunity to hang out with our kids without distractions or friends or interlopers. It will just be us, a rental car, a few hotels, a map, food and alternating time on the beach with time seeing ruins and castles. This is why my husband and I feel so strongly about international travel, using our miles to take our kids to different countries. When we’re in a strange land, we have to rely on each other and we connect in a way that is harder to do back home with so many distractions.
To find your world stage, remember to savor what season of life you are in, whether it’s college, or your first job, or the early married years or being home with babies, or living with teens, because whatever stage it is, it will go by too fast, and someday you’re gonna miss this.
My two children and I about 10 years ago.