I’ve been reflecting a lot about the passage of time. The main reason for this preoccupation, I think, is that my children are hitting various milestones that underscore their ages and, with that, I can’t help but think about how little time I have left with them under my roof. My oldest child, age 10, was assigned a date for her Bat Mitzvah. My middle child, age 8, has a mouthful of braces and will be going to sleep away camp for the first time in June. And my youngest, 18-months-old, is starting school next fall.
It’s not just the major milestones that have me focused on my children’s rapid maturation. It’s the daily reminders as well—how my 10-year-old is suddenly so particular about what clothes she’ll wear; how my 8-year-old won’t come over to me in public when he’s with his friends, but instead will give me just the tiniest tilt of his head to let me know that he sees me; how my toddler is swiftly growing out of all of his clothes, diapers and toys. Wasn’t it just last week that this toddler was a tiny baby in my arms, with fuzzy, chick-like hair, gripping my finger hard, with his entire fist, as if to say, “Mommy, I will never let you go”? Weren’t they all just that tiny? And yet, here I am, a few short years later, with two big kids who will no longer hold my hand in public, and sometimes not even at home. They have, in fact, started to let me go. And it’s sad.
Aside from my children’s rapid growth, there are other indications that time is swiftly passing. My husband, whom I met when I was 22 and he 23, turned 40 this year, and we also celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary. My sister, whom my parents adopted when I was in college, is in college herself now, as are three of my nieces and nephews, and my other nephew is applying to medical school. My parents have become grandparents and, as they age, it is becoming clear that they need me just as much as I need them.
I know why it’s distressing that my parents are aging. But why do I feel uneasy about the fact that my nieces, nephews and sister are in college and (almost) graduate school? Why am I so sad that my children are growing up? After all, isn’t that what they’re supposed to do? They should be separating from me, despite the fact that it hurts like hell, so much so that I can’t help but take it personally.
The answer is twofold. In part, it’s nostalgia. I’m sad because I can’t get the past back. I will never again hold my newborn baby in my arms. I will never again celebrate my child’s first spoken word, first steps, or first taste of real food. Even though I’ve had those experiences and enjoyed them tremendously, the fact that I won’t have them again feels like a terrible sense of loss.
The other part is that seeing those around me age has forced me to confront my own aging. It’s impossible to say, “My daughter has a Bat Mitzvah date!” without thinking, “Wait, I’m old enough to have a child who’s becoming a Bat Mitzvah?” It’s hard to think about sending a child off to sleep away camp without thinking about sending that child off to college. And every now and then, when I’m chasing my toddler around, a thought pops into my head that I hadn’t until right this minute allowed to become fully conscious, because I didn’t like its message: This wasn’t as hard a decade ago.
So what is the point of all this? The point is that I’ve become acutely aware of how little time there is for each of us, even in the best case scenario, and how quickly that time passes. I’m now starting to wonder if I will have regrets when I’m old, and what those regrets might be. I’m wondering if I’m doing enough with my allotted time, or if I’m squandering this gift. I’m wondering if, when I’m old and gray, I’ll say to myself, “That was it?” I’m wondering if there’s anything I can do to prevent myself from ever feeling that way.
I don’t mean to be Debbie Downer. I don’t mean to be sanctimonious. I will continue to be the realistic (some may say cynical), sarcastic, ranter that I’ve always been. But I will keep thinking about these issues. I will try to be more careful with my mindset–I shouldn’t be saying, “I can’t wait for winter break!” or “I wish it were summer!”– and with my actions. Given the choice between spending time with a loved one or scrolling through some social media site, I need to choose the loved one. I want to choose the loved one. I need to try to use my time in the most effective, most fulfilling, way possible. I think that’s the best that I, or anyone, can do.