“Excuse me, can I ask you a question?” he said as he leaned into our table. I had been trying very hard to create invisible walls between our families just to give them the feeling of privacy while they ate their lunch. The restaurant was crowded that day, and we were practically eating with him, his wife, and their two small boys.
“Sure,” I answered assuming he was going to ask me for the ketchup.
Instead, he looked at me with sad eyes over his sincere smile and asked, “Does it get easier?” and he directed my attention to the two small boys crawling around and over their mother. I guessed 5 and 2-years old. She put her son’s rejected, half-chewed chicken tender back on the plate, peeled the smaller child off of her and said, “We were just thinking that we’ll be like you all one day with your two grown sons.”
I nodded and recalled the many times in my past when they were that little. I had stared at families with older boys and watched with envious and incredulous eyes as their sons ordered for themselves, fed themselves, and even participated in conversations. I marveled at the thought that one day, that scene could be my scene, too. No matter how I tried, however, I could not imagine that my quarreling, whining, highly irritating, and very ill-mannered two boys would ever actually be enjoyable company at a restaurant.
She repeated his question. “When does that happen, that it gets easier?”
She wanted to know, right? She wouldn’t have repeated his question again if she didn’t really want to know. Right? “You’ve got a long way to go,” I said and laughed to indicate that she could choose to take my reply as a joke if she so chose. She knew I meant it.
“I’ve heard the days are long but the years are short,” she said trying to find a way to qualify my answer.
“Nope,” I assured her. “Long days. Long years.” She twisted the corner of her mouth and shook her head. I needed to say something reassuring. “But then you hit this sweet spot when they start acting like humans. Like now,” I said as Asher leaned in to the conversation and waved at their little boy staring back at him. At the age of 14, he was definitely pleasant, even enjoyable at times.
When my son entered middle school in the 6th grade, he was a child. He was small and squeaky and hopelessly dependent on his parents for just about everything. In 8th grade, he is now 5’10” and wears 11.5 size shoes. His voice seems to drop every time he gains an inch. He hates the hair sprouting under his arms and under his nose, forcing him to acknowledge the man he is becoming. While I still must remind him to shower and fold his laundry, he offers to help around the house and does his homework without prompting and sometimes stands behind me to give me an unsolicited shoulder massage. The transformation has been astounding.
It was only a few weeks ago that I had attended the incoming 9th grade meeting to walk parents through high school credit requirements and online registration procedure. That was when everything sped up and took my breath away. During the presentation, I sat in my seat listening to words like “high school transcript” and “college” and “career goals.” I felt time race through my body at warp speed as if I had traveled the distance from the Terrific 2s of preschool to that very moment in the space of an hour. The last page of our high school hand out blurred in front of me, and I shifted in my seat in an attempt to physically bring my attention to the present. I had waited all those long days and those long years for this time, and now that it was here, I finally understood what it meant when parents wished they could freeze time.
“You have a ways to go,” I said, “But eventually. One day. You’ll want time to stand still. You won’t want to go back, but suddenly and without warning, you’ll feel that it’s all going so quickly.”
“I look forward to that time,” she said.
“I used to say the same,” I assured her. “And now, here we are.”