The Rockwood Files: The 1,000-year-old aunt goes shopping

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Today I bought our niece Katie a graduation present. I couldn’t decide what to choose, so I gave the gift of shopping. I bought her a gift card at a store where she can pick out things for her first dorm room. In six weeks or so, she’ll be going to college to study marine biology, and I’m betting she’ll do big things. If there were a Trivial Pursuit game that was all about the ocean, you definitely wouldn’t want to play against her.

It’s tough to wrap my head around the idea of Katie going to college because I hang onto this mental image of her as the 8-year-old flower girl in my wedding. She was so perfect in her little white dress with her red hair pulled back in a pretty braid. When you don’t see kids often enough, their age tends to freeze in your mind in between visits, even though they go right ahead outgrowing clothes, learning to drive and leaving for college.

Before I bought Katie’s gift card, I walked down the aisles, looking at new bedspreads, shower caddies and bulletin boards. As I browsed by, the past 18 years seemed to vanish in a time warp. Wasn’t it just five minutes ago that my college roommate and I were picking out things for our first dorm room? We put matching comforters on our twin beds, and my dad laid down a carpet remnant to cover the cold, hard tile in that box of a room. We had a little microwave for late night popcorn, not nearly enough closet space and a small fish tank with one goldfish – until we learned the hard way that you can’t clean a fish tank with dish soap before refilling it. (I’m betting the future marine biologist won’t make that same mistake.)

It hit me today, just how much life can zip by in what feels like such a short period of time. One day you’re mapping out a university campus, hoping you won’t get lost on the first day of class. The next day you’re mapping out carpool schedules and coaxing a toddler to eat her green beans. How’d I get here so fast?

Nearly two decades have passed since the day I moved into my first dorm room. And as nice as it would be to have some of the perks of being 18 again (especially the thinner thighs), I wouldn’t go back even if I could. I’ve had a good time getting from there to here – even though it often feels like a blur. But it’s a blur that brought me a college degree, a career, a husband, a mortgage, three kids, good friends, great memories and more than 700 newspaper columns documenting the journey in progress.

I wish I had brilliant advice for Katie and the other 18-year-olds headed off to start their new lives this fall, but my pointers are pretty basic. Here goes: You won’t realize just how fast the time goes by until it’s already gone. So stop to absorb the big moments as often as you can and write about them, too. Film them with your tiny camera phone, if you like, but don’t post anything stupid on YouTube because the only place where time stands still is the Internet, where stupid lives on forever, and a Google search can stand between you and your dream job.

Protect your credit score as if it’s even more valuable than your favorite pair of “going out” jeans because – believe me – it is. And know that even though you’ll be making tons of decisions on your own in the next few years, none of them are as important as the quality of the people whom you choose to spend your time with and your own integrity. Surround yourself with friends who have good sense and a good heart, and you’ll be fine.

And one day – in 18 to 20 years – you’ll be shopping for a graduation gift for the pretty little flower girl who stood by you at your wedding, and you’ll probably feel a thousand years old. But, if you’re blessed and if you make smart decisions, you’ll look at your blur of a life and know that you wouldn’t want it any other way.

Want to read previous installments of The Rockwood Files? Click here!