Be careful! Do not blink! While your eyes are averted time will slip alway from you. When you think to look again the hours and the days and the months and the years will be gone. The baby that you once held in your arms will be an adult. The long nights that you spent without sleep will be little more than a memory. The skinned knees, hurt feelings, and ceaseless questions from that tiny little one will become less frequent. You will watch as a child that once totally depended on you pushes away, becomes independent. It will make you both proud and a tiny bit sad as you watch the cycle of life play out before your very eyes. The thing that you hoped would happen does and it is a bittersweet moment. Love is giving your children wings and hoping that they will fly away to experience adventures of their own. It is the way of life and it happens sooner than you may ever think, so cherish every single opportunity that you have to enjoy your babies for soon enough, if you have done your job well, they will need to walk away so that they might be on their own.
I still remember rocking my two girls during nighttime feedings as vividly as if those experiences happened only seconds ago. I can feel their warmth in my arms and hear their tiny suckling sounds. I was so tired, wondering if I would ever again get a full night’s sleep. At the time those cries in the dark seemed endless and yet in retrospect they did not last long at all. I now view the closeness that I felt to each of my daughters in those dark nights when it seemed that we were the only people awake on earth as perhaps the most wonderful occasions that I ever experienced. Back then I could only dream of who they might ultimately become. I was young and beautiful and they were so perfect and wonderful. There were so many possibilities.
Thousands of meals, loads of laundry, bedtime stories, miles spent in the car, homework assignments later they were grown women walking down the aisle with men that I entrusted with their care. They began to realize what life had been like for me and I understood how they might be feeling as they began their own families and I became a grandmother. I will always be just a bit ahead of them in the drama of our lifetimes.
My first grandchild was Andrew. I still envision him snuggled in my arms on chilly Indiana days in his very first week of life. He was a cuddly baby, so willing to lie happily for hours in my care. Now and again he peeked at the world with one open eye in his first attempts to get to know me. He was a very sweet baby boy. I had helped his mother paint little trains on the yellow walls of his room and had been filled with wonder upon first seeing him but he lived so far away from me. I was in Texas and he was in Indiana. I cried for hours when I had to wave goodbye to him after our first encounter but there would be many, many more.
Eventually Andrew and his parents would move back to Texas where I watched him grow and assume the role of eldest in a string of seven grandchildren, each as unique and wonderful as he was. I celebrated his birthdays, Christmases, soccer games, swim meets, Boy Scout events, school programs, band concerts, and milestones that marked the passage of time. I walked along a beach with him in Cape Cod and the two of us analyzed mankind and the world. I sensed that his childhood was coming to an end. I forgot along the way how quickly his those days would vanish. I blinked.
One day I looked up and the little boy who had been Andrew hugged me with the strong arms of a young man. His voice had grown deep and his wisdom was that of an adult. His transition had happened before my very eyes it seemed. Once again I knew the bittersweet moment of feeling wonderful that he had turned out so well and missing the little boy who so loved to ask to ask questions and contemplate life.
In a twist of irony Andrew will be returning to Indiana in the fall. He has chosen to attend Purdue University in the very town where he was born. His ancestors and mine were once pioneers in that state. It was on the banks of the Ohio River that my great grandfather first saw my great grandmother as he captained a steamship through Indiana. Andrew will study in a place that seems to be entwined with his DNA. He will be a Purdue Boilermaker.
I find myself thinking about the little trains that his mother and I painted on the walls of his room so long ago. His house and that room are not far from the place that he will call home for the next four years or so. Who knew back then that one day he would return to begin his journey as an adult in earnest? He still has so many adventures in front of him. Life is only beginning and I know that sense of excitement that he is feeling for I too have walked in his shoes.
As I saunter through the hallways of the school where I was a student long ago I now tutor a new generation. I feel the spirits of the many who spent their youth inside the walls of the school. I remember the shy skinny young girl that I was and the people who were my classmates. There is still a certain scent that hovers over the place that tells me that I am there. It is the smell of paper and ink and lead pencils and books and wooden desks and thousands of young people slowly but surely making their way into the world of adults. Almost five decades have passed since I wore my own white graduation robe and wondered how my life would unfold. In the gym where students still cheer for their teams I received my high school diploma and anxiously wanted to burst out into the larger world. I had no idea what was in my future but like Andrew I had been well prepared. Over time I somehow made it even when things became very tough. Every single minute of my life has been affected by the foundations from my youth. They sustained me over and over again.
I think of Andrew and know that he will take with him the friendships, the knowledge, the values that he has collected in his still somewhat short lifetime. All that he has experienced will help him to really and truly become the man that he wants to be. He will continue that circle of life that repeats itself again and again and again. He is ready.
It has been almost fifty years since I was in Andrew’s shoes. I have seen much and done much. My life has been good and at times it has been difficult. I have made and lost friends. I have known great love. I like to think that I have made a small difference on this planet. I want to believe that I still have much more time to experience new adventures and to watch Andrew as he too journeys through this thing that we call life. I sense that he is ready and that he will do well. I have but one piece of advice for him as he ventures out on his own. “Don’t blink! Time will go by far more quickly than you might ever imagine. Cherish each moment and don’t be in a hurry. Life will unfold for you just as it was meant to be and just as it has for generation after generation. It will be filled with surprises and delight. Embrace it. You have much love and support ready for you whenever you need it. I suspect that you will be just fine. The best times of your life are waiting for you. Enjoy every single second! The next time you look up you will be an old man. It really does go by that fast and you won’t want to miss a thing!”