One of my favorite pictures of my oldest daughter shows her as an infant holding an oak leaf. The picture was taken in the fall of the year, and the leaf is big and colored in her little hand. She is wearing a blue aviator style hat that covers her ears and ties under her chin. It was sunny and cool that fall day, and the leaf in her hand is waving above her head. I saw that picture again the other day, and looking at it I could recall the events that surround it like it was just yesterday. Today, however, I look at my daughter and instead of a leaf in her hand she is waving a college application.
On the table in front of me I’m looking at photographic proof that my daughter was once a small child, yet sitting next to me at the computer, she’s a high school senior working on her application for college. So I’m left wondering, how did this happen? How did we get from point A to point B so fast, and why do I have such fleeting memories of what happened in between?
It is always your parents or grandparents that tell you when your children are little that by the time you turn around once they will be grown, turn around twice and they will be gone. They tell you this from experience because it has happened to them, but being young and naïve you smile and nod and continue on with your busy schedule of school programs, dance lessons and sports practices.
At this age work is demanding as you are trying to establish your career, and weekends are even busier as you try to catch up on chores around the house or events piled on top of events. Before you know it ... it’s happened to you ... you have turned around once and both your daughters are in high school and one is driving.
I have always said that you really can’t judge the passing of time until you have children. As you watch them grow from infant to adolescence, you first start to realize that they are not the only ones growing older, you are getting older right along with them. Whether you want to admit it or not, you’re not 25 or even 35 any more, but now you’re more likely to — gasp — resemble your parents than your own senior picture in your high school yearbook.
With children, and as a teacher, time is often measured by the school year. We are already nearing the 9-week reporting period; can you believe that a quarter of the school year has already gone by? Next will come Thanksgiving and then Christmas, followed by spring break and then your oldest child is walking across the stage at graduation.
All this time you have taken care of your children, taught them that they could trust and depend upon you to get them up and out the door in the morning, to make the right decisions for them because they are too young to understand the consequences and to provide for all the other countless needs that raising children requires.
Then all of a sudden you come to this point in your child’s life where you must now teach your children to become less dependent upon you and more dependent upon themselves. You push them to become more self-sufficient, to accept responsibility and the consequences that follow their decisions. It’s at this point, as a parent, you hope they were listening to the countless sermons, rants and lessons you tried to instill in their hearts and tried to beat into their heads.
I think that the measure of success in raising children is, yes, in how they turn out, but also can measured in the time and effort you invested in being a part of their lives. Whether it is watching them play ball or dance, being there at the dinner table, or just being someone they can cuddle up next to on the couch, a supportive, loving presence will pay great dividends in the future of your child.
Time does go by too fast. Watching your daughters grow up before your eyes has a sobering effect on sorting out what’s truly important in life. Before I turn around again and they are gone, maybe the most important gift I can give my daughters is not material things, but a gift of my time.