My middle kid graduated from middle school (appropriately enough) this week, a grand milestone in both her life and mine. Anyone who’s been on either side of this occasion knows that It’s not just the transition point between grades; it’s a transition point across the chasm of ages, from the long-traveled-toward far margin of childhood to the rapidly-approaching horizon of young adulthood. I was here a few years back with my eldest, who’s now entering her senior year of high school. And there’s one more coming behind us, a few years down the line. Even spacing between the one at the front, the one in the center and the one at the end.
And yet, these transitions points are far from equal.
One kid heading into high school leaves you two on the playground, with at least a little breathing room to relish their kidliness.
Two kids in high school simultaneously and one outgrowing the jungle gym leaves us wondering how we became the parents of teens and tweens so suddenly.
It becomes strikingly apparent that, at some point in the not-so-distant future, I’ll no longer be the father of children.
I’ll be the father of adults.
How wistful and unprepared I am for this, just as I’m certain every other father who’s gone before me in to the misty gray unknown of My Kids Have Grown Up…Now What? has been.
It seems that the clocks have sped their ticking without my permission.
I read a study recently regarding the perception of time, the overriding theory of which proposed that maintaining focus on new information can inspire the feeling of time passing much more slowly. I think parents recognize straight away that this theory can’t hold in the face of raising kids. When you focus your attention on your children, watching their milestones actually speeds up your perception of time rather than slowing it down. They acquire language, and suddenly their interior world explodes and adds to the greater reality. They learn to walk, and suddenly their adventure on the physical plane becomes exponentially more expansive. They decode mathematics and physiology and the written word, and suddenly they radiate as much as they absorb.
They pull together universal elements in a way that has never been done before, by the simple virtue of synthesizing the world in their own inimitable combination.
In this sense, I tend to believe they make a time pocket, a little bubble in the cosmos that pulls otherwise-elongated moments into a vortex and spins them around at least twice their normal speed. Their gravity drags their parents into the pocket right along with them.
And when you have more than one kid exerting this influence, the effect is multiplied, until moments go whizzing by without your say-so. You can do nothing to slow them down, let alone stop them to make detailed observations like you’ve been used to doing.
Then, they teach you as much as you’ve taught them.
About language, and how it’s been expanded and altered in the years since you helped provide it to them. About mathematics, and how one plus one plus one doesn’t actually equal three, but something closer to a million when you realize the holographic properties of the number “one” when you add the word “child” after it. About physiology, and how the beating of a human heart can expand to accommodate the rhythms emitted by those whose creation arose from it.
Their milestones are grand leaps across their own vast as-yet-unencountered, while your milestones are all…centered around their milestones.
You spin in their gravity, not the other way around.
At some point you realize that you’re along for the ride, and acceleration is beyond your control.
When mine were still learning to decipher alphabetic wonderment, I wrote children’s books – volumes I’d hoped they’d read at some point as fully-published works. I wanted them to have stories from me that challenged their vocabularies and stirred their imaginations as much as the stories I knew other authors had created for that purpose. To me, it was a noble pursuit. But It didn’t pan out as I’d planned, and the adult voices of my interior storyteller monologue overtook the childish ones. I knew I’d make a return to children’s literature someday, if only to show them how my writerly journey began as something they helped inspire in the first place.
And honestly, considering the content and the vernacular I use in my stories for the fully-grown, they won’t be reading most of my work for a very, very long time.
It’s time now to circle back around to the origin of the time pocket and write a few things that young readers might enjoy. I’m at it again, greasing up the wheels of a relatively old (eight years, to be exact) idea I have for a bit of children’s literature as I work the rust out of the gears. It’s coming back pretty sweetly, hopefully with a bit more polish now that I’ve been through the process a few times. I’ll be eager to share it with you when it’s finished.
Even sweeter: I’ll be eager to share it with them.
Maybe it’ll add a little drag to the velocity of our rush through Let’s Be Kids! as we rocket our way toward All Grown Up Now.
It can’t hurt to try.