My older son found out this week that he got into the college he wanted to attend, a college he has been eyeing and considering and talking about since at least ninth grade.
Fair to say, the level of anticipation and tension in our house had been rising for several days before we got the good news on Friday. It’s not unlike the tension that builds before Election Day or a big awards show.
For me, this rising tension was matched by another rising feeling: surprise.
How did we get here, I wonder. Wasn’t my son just a little tow-headed toddler, transfixed first by Peter Pan and “The Little Mermaid” then later by anything “Star Wars” (he could listen to the sound track albums and tell you, with unerring precision, exactly what was happening on screen at that moment in the music)?
And my younger son is doubling my shock – he’s going into ninth grade and just had his first high school orientation meeting. He stands taller than his mother and his voice now booms and echoes like a full-grown man. I look at him and it is hard to believe that he once wandered around the house in his big brother’s Darth Vader helmet, bellowing in his 3-year-old voice “You don’t know the power of the Dark Side.”
My wife and I waited a relatively long time to have kids – eight years after we were married, into our early 30s. I was almost too set in my ways to adapt to the parenting life.
Instead, I found myself a stay-at-home dad, working as a freelance writer while my wife worked at a series of high-powered jobs that entailed long hours, nights and weekends. It was a haze of laundry, sick kids, homework supervision, and constant cleanup.
I used to joke about counting the days until the kids were ready to leave home and head for college.
Now I do indeed find myself counting the days, but not quite in the way I meant back then. Lately I am counting not the days to go, but rather the days I have left. Everything we do is potentially the last we do together, at least as a tight, co-habiting foursome without the intervening commitments of adulthood: last road trip, last trip to a beloved restaurant, last camping expedition, last concert.
My wife and I are friends with a younger couple that is now dealing with those early years, with a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. The kids are adorable, but high energy and in their most demanding phase. I can see the strain those ages place on the parents, and I remember too well being amazed at just how hard raising little kids can be.
We have told our friends that things do get better. Life gets easier in tiny increments and little victories: when they’re potty trained, when they can put on their own shoes, when they can brush their own teeth, and, perhaps most exciting, when they can buckle their own seatbelts.
But then one day, you realize that those thrilling little victories start to add up in an oddly disconcerting way. The kids don’t need you most of the time – they make their own breakfasts, do their own laundry, slip off to socialize with their own friends.
And suddenly I find that 18 long and sometimes difficult years seem to have gone by in a blink and my little boys have grown up.
I am trying to relish all the days I have left with them.