- Dr. Seuss
Tomorrow is a milestone, a minor one in the grand scheme of things, but a milestone nonetheless. Tomorrow is the first day of school. It is also the first day when all of our offspring will be participants in it. The Boy begins 4th grade. The Girl begins 2nd. The G enters kindergarten. So there you have it - the last of the fledglings will take her first real steps outside the nest. She will be following the first two who have already opened their feathers, stretched out, and tested the thermals.
Flash forward a decade and the G will be entering her sophomore year in high school, the Girl will start her senior year, and the Boy, the first of our brood, will begin his sophomore year of college. Assuming there is no boomerang, our son has already passed the halfway point of the time he will share our home.
But 10 years seems time enough, right? Down the road three thousand six hundred fifty days feels distant, doesn't it?
Or does it?
10 years ago today was a Friday - Friday the 13th. My wife and I had lived in this house for a mere 7 months, having moved here from points north. We had been together more than 7 years by that time and were just a couple weeks shy of our 3rd wedding anniversary, which we would celebrate in Hawaii. We were an unencumbered pair, with no real responsibilities beyond a cat and a couple of dogs. Our time was our own and we indulged it freely, whether with travel, dining out, movies, or often just a picnic. We were free and time was on our side. Yes, time was our ally, matched our rhythm, allowed us to savor, to reflect, to breath.
On that Friday 10 years back we were expecting guests, the Triple Ds - Dan, Deb, and their five year old daughter, Dharma. They were among our first visitors since our move. Dan, an architect, would offer up his help for a planned remodel of our new home.
It was an otherwise ordinary weekend of old friends coming together with perhaps too much wine. It was only punctuated by my wife's unusual queasiness throughout, and an injury to my knee during a picnic hike.
Though by the calendar it was long ago, I remember every single detail of that weekend - remember them all acutely. It feels as if no more than a week has passed. I remember our guests' late arrival 10 years ago today, the bruschetta growing soggy on the dining table for them. I remember Dan stretching his measuring tape that weekend, here and there. I remember sitting in the chair of our living room, my knee wrapped, and mitigating the pain with a good vintage. I remember Deb stepping out on the patio repeatedly to remind Dan they needed to leave, and Dan placating her - "Yeah, in just a bit" - before returning again to our conversation. I remember the deviled eggs my wife made on a whim the day of the trio's departure and the fondness I felt both for my wife and those eggs. I remember it all despite the 10 intervening years.
We didn't know it then, but that innocuous weekend marked the beginning of something. Our life was forever changed from that point on. The injury to my knee turned out to be a torn ACL. But that nausea my wife felt over that weekend? It was morning sickness. Exactly one week after that day 10 years removed from this one my wife and I were informed that a child, our child, was growing within her. A new volume was about to be penned in our story.
The decade since has been a cascade of change. We welcomed the Boy, and then the Girl, and then the G. Our nightstands groaned under the weight of well-thumbed copies of What to Expect When You're Expecting and The Expectant Father and Dr. Sears. We devoted hours to finding the perfect diapers or safest carseat, were overwhelmed by cute onsies and adorable mobiles. The house was flooded with shape sorters and strollers, diaper wipes and Caillou, teddy bears and board books - nearly drowning us - and then, in a blink, that tide receded, denuding our home of all that precious driftwood. Birthdays and Christmases and milestones melted their candles, burned their bows, and raced by. For years we slept with small humans upon us and beside us, but their imprints are now long faded from our bedding.
Over those 10 years our home's often deafening music receded to nothing, supplanted by the luxuriance of extemporaneous lullabies and bedtime books, memorized word for word. And oh, all those idealized first words, lost teeth, and potty times. Bandaids and hugs became commonplace, gently soothing little wounds. We planted trees, built playhouses, and marked our children's palms in concrete. Baby bumps and breast pumps. Fridge pictures and freezers of milk. Tears, vomit, poo, and countless readings of Good Night Moon. Nina and Star and plasma cars. Purple buckets and dino nuggets. Bouncy seats and mommy meets. Wiping yet another bum, and "waiting for the hot to come." From pull-ups to piano lessons, jumpers to jump ropes, "yogi-dogis" to yearbooks, we piled up these perfect fallen leaves only to watch helplessly as they scattered in a whirlwind of seasons flying by.
We have marched through preschool and into grade school. Playgrounds have been conquered, nightmares banished, training wheels abandoned. Self-consciousness has been kept at bay, protecting the fertile ground of whimsy, fairies, songs and wonder. The magic of Santa and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy prevailed triumphantly before being mortally wounded this year (at least for the oldest) by life's most indelicate cruelty.
Though these past 10 years have seen us indescribably joyful at our children's births and lives, we have also deeply grieved the deaths of those pets that began the decade with us. And there has been more to weep. My grandfather has passed. My wife's father - my children's only grandfather - was lost just this last spring. Our time has been scored by geneticists, cardiologists, therapists and ER visits; scarred by the stumbles, mumbles and dislocations, the broken windows and the broken backs that prompted those encounters. Our great, unbridled happiness over the last decade has been countered with a series of crushing blows that initially caused us utter panic, and then depressive dismay, and finally resigned shrugs. It's as if the universe uses the laws of physics when meting out life to us: for every action there must be an equal and opposite reaction. Balance in all things, I suppose, but it has at times felt too cruel.
All of this has happened and so much, so much, more since that weekend of reunion a decade ago. It is far too much to hold in the flutter of 10 years. It overflows. And it has gone by so fast. I blinked, and ended up here. How does so much happen so quickly? This is not a case of regret, it isn't another chorus of Cat's In the Cradle. I didn't miss anything. I was here the whole time. And still there wasn't time enough. Had I been able to avoid sleep for the decade I still could not have taken it all in.
All of which begs the question: what of the next three thousand, six hundred fifty days? As the kids shake off the last of our cuddles, and begin their climb towards adulthood, how do we catch it all? If the last decade hurtled by how will we cope with what's ahead? How do we slow it down? How do we wrap it up, rope it, leash it, stop it?
How do we keep from blinking?
I don't know. I doubt anyone does.
But I do know these tears make it hard not to.