A brief history of (family) time
Vail, CO, Colorado
Just next to the playground at our kindergartner’s elementary school, there’s a line of big, painted numbers 1 through 5, where the kids line up each morning according to grade. Our little guy is still on the “K,” and when we visited the playground on a recent Saturday, we came up with a game we dubbed “Grade Guesser.”
One person (usually me) stands about 20 feet away, facing away from the numbers, while the other (usually Andy) picks a place to stand. He then calls out “Guess my grade!” And I try to do just that. It’s basically a hearing test, and not too hard to guess if you’re not too far away. But then Andy started standing in between, say, the 3 and the 4, which meant the correct answer would be “summer before 4th grade.” If he stood to the left of the “K,” that was preschool, while anything right of the 5 was middle school.
Since Grade Guesser doesn’t require a ton of brain power (not nearly so much as, say, “Hungry Hungry Hippos”), it didn’t take long for me to start musing about what these numbers represented in terms of my own family. Watching Andy grinningly standing on the 3, for instance, reminded me that when he’s in 3rd grade, his oldest brother will be starting college. When he’s on the 4, his sister will be off on her own, and when he reaches the 5, another brother will be out the door.
And that’s not so far from now. Somehow, looking at those big, white numbers painted on the ground put it into a more easily read perspective for me, and as thunderheads massed over the mountains and we had to curtail our game, I felt a bit of relief. After all, it’s a mixed bag to contemplate the future with kids. It wasn’t so long ago that the two older boys were obsessing over archery and Harry Potter trading cards; just yesterday that our little girl was lining up her Polly Pocket dolls for hours on end. Now, they’re cell-phone-toting teens with attitude, plans of their own and a different view of their parents’ relative worth. We may still be high on the slopes of Mt. Olympus as far as the kindergartner is concerned, but for the teenagers, we’ve been stripped of our deity status and now inhabit a place that ranges between the basement and the first-floor pantry (a position we can achieve if we properly fulfill our driving duties.)
And that’s OK. Part of growing up is defining your own world from that of your parents’, and there’s often a bit of pain involved on both sides as that separation takes place. As parents, we intuit all this while often not comprehending it, and it’s typically a difficult time to work through. As the older kids keep several steps ahead of where they are ” thinking ahead to college, living on their own, etc. ” it does little good to remind them that, chances are, they are currently inhabiting the best times of their lives. Their job is to keep moving, and they won’t hear any different.
Looking at something like the Grade Guesser game ” or even a multi-year calendar ” illuminates all too well the relatively short time we have; the life broken up into a couple of different acts that tend to play out before we’ve even realized what scene we were in. We move through the white numbers like whippets, eager, for a time, to get on ahead and, later, wishing we could go back.
I know I will mentally freeze Andy on that big “K” and cherish that image for years. But I also know we have to enjoy these kids as the moving targets that they are. Lots of love and patience helps, as does a broader appreciation for each white number they’re standing on at a given time.
Alex Miller can be reached at email@example.com.