By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
Yesterday we stopped at a country gas station cafe on our way home from a weekend at the lake. We slid into a booth and waited for our burgers and tater tots to be ready. We were all hungry and tired, and, despite slathering them with 70 SPF sunscreen, the kids were a little pink across the nose and shoulders from having spent most of the afternoon outside.
A line of people started to form at the counter – most of them ordering a tall ice cream cone to cool down from the 90-degree day. One of the men in line had a baby girl on his shoulder who looked about four or five-months-old. She was wearing a white cotton onesie, and her sweet face and peach fuzz hair were adorable. But I couldn’t stop looking at the way her plump legs made two perfect little folds of baby fat on the back of her knees. I remembered when my babies had those same little rolls on the back of their legs, and suddenly I realized how quickly those chubby baby legs have grown into the lanky kids sitting across from me – kids who can now do a cannonball into the pool and operate the TV remote better than most adults.
The kids interrupted my nostalgic reverie by asking if they’d have time to play when we got home or if it would be bedtime by then. Tom and I told them it was getting late but, if they changed quickly into pajamas and brushed their teeth, they’d have a half-hour or so to do what they wanted.
“Will you put some time in your pocket for me, Mom?” asked 4-year-old Kate.
“Sure,” I said, and she beamed back at me. She asks me this question a lot lately.
A few months ago, when we were running late to an event, Kate asked if I could keep some extra time for her so she could use it afterward to watch cartoons. I jokingly replied that I’d just stick some time in my pocket and give it to her later, and she took me at my word. I should have set the record straight in that moment, but I didn’t have the heart to disappoint her. Her big brothers are old enough now to know that nobody can stop time, but Kate still thinks her dad and I can do anything.
If I really could do anything, I’d make the kids stop growing up so fast. Nearly every time I fold their laundry, I relegate at least one or two things to the “donate to charity” pile because it’s suddenly too small. It surprises me every time it happens. I tell myself the clothes must be shrinking in the dryer because it’s easier than admitting how quickly the kids are changing.
I walked past Kate’s bedroom today and noticed her slipping into a fairy princess costume, and I had this uneasy feeling that, way before I’m ready, she’ll be putting on a prom dress and then a graduation cap and gown. By then, she will have realized that the magical pocket I keep her time in has a big hole in it. She’ll know that time is not like a stick of gum you can save to enjoy later.
By the time this column prints, the kids will be out of school for the summer. And even though I’ll get far less work done and the house will likely be a mess for the next three months, I’m happy they’ll be home with time on their hands. Seeing that baby yesterday reminded me how fast everything is happening. One day my kids will use their once-chubby baby legs to walk out of here and into their own lives.
So I’ve got to enjoy this while it lasts – the summer days at the lake, snow cones, board games, running through the sprinkler – and the not-so-fun stuff, too, like the afternoons when they’re “bored”, and the trail of Legos all over the house and the endless loads of laundry.
One of my favorite singers, James Taylor, said it best in his song called “Secret O’ Life”. He said the secret of life is “enjoying the passage of time.” This summer, I’m going to do my best to remember these lines from the song. Hope they’ll help you, too: “Nobody knows how we got to the top of the hill. But since we’re on our way down, we might as well enjoy the ride.”