There is a song from a popular musical production that I’ve always liked. Its opening lines run something like this:
Where is the little girl I carried?
Where is the little boy at play?
I don’t remember growing older,
When did they?
When I first heard the song as a young father, before ever seeing the play, it struck me as something to be sung by people much older than I, parents whose children had grown into adulthood. Knowing now how quickly time can pass, however, I’m not so sure of that.
This past year, one of my sisters welcomed her first great-grandchild into the family. During that same period, a friend of my daughter’s sent her eldest child off to university for the first time. Almost twenty years separates these two children from each other.
It seems to me, looking on from a vantage point somewhere between these two milestones, that the difference from one to the other is not so great at all. Only yesterday, my own five grandchildren were infants; tomorrow, they’ll be heading out into the great, wide world. And when that happens, the intervening years will have passed in the blink of an eye.
I find it fascinating to talk with my sister and my friend about their respective hopes and ambitions for these two children. Although they’re speaking from different perspectives, their feelings are remarkably the same.
Whether still at home as a babe in arms, or off to school in a faraway town (as a babe in the woods?), each of these children is the object of a good deal of love and concern. Each is seen by their families as being at the beginning of a long, exciting journey. Everyone hopes the kids will be healthy and safe, happy and secure, and successful as they grow through the next few years.
Both families pray the children will make the best use of what their parents are able to give them. They hope the children will be guided by a strong set of values. And they definitely want to keep open the lines of communication with their young.
Their most similar characteristic, though, is their tendency to care about and fuss over the children. It matters not whether the kids are with them still, or out in the brave, new world—they worry.
In a way, I find that reassuring.
Of course, there are differences, too, in how these folks look upon their situations. With my daughter’s friend, the mother of the university child, I detect a hint of resignation in her outlook, which is not apparent in my sister’s perspective. It stems, I suppose, from the knowledge that she no longer exercises as much control over what her child is doing, or what might be done to him. More and more, she can only look on as her son finds his own way.
She appears to be at peace with this, however; she evinces a belief that most of what she will ever be able to do for her son has already been done. Or not. She doesn’t see her job as a parent as finished—perhaps it never is—but she doesn’t view it as the major focus it once was in her life.
She summed it up quite nicely on a recent visit. Speaking almost wonderingly, she said, “There was so much more we wanted to teach him before he went off and left us. But it got so late, so soon!”
In her comment, I hear an echo of that song I like. My daughter’s friend doesn’t remember growing older, so when did her son? It’s a song many of my friends are singing now, as their grandchildren continue to grow and strike out on their own. It’s a song I, too, will soon be singing.
As Jack Kornfield, an American writer and Buddhist practitioner, has written—The trouble is, you think you have time.
So, I don’t complain that I’m too tired when my grandchildren still want to come visit me. And I don’t say I’m too busy when one or the other wants to tell me all about their latest exploits.
For I know, as my daughter’s friend says, that too soon, it will be too late.