Small moments, but hopefully big memories.
It was early in the morning, and the front door to the house was wide open. In the doorjamb, wearing her purple pajamas, standing only as tall as her mother’s kneecap, 1-year-old Kennedy beamed her big smile and waved goodbye to me and to her three older siblings who were in the backseat of my car.
It struck me, as I pulled out of the driveway for our daily trip to school, that this child — at least in her current state — soon would be forgotten. Soon, she will learn to talk and read and write, and the 1-year-old will become ancient history.
And I felt that melancholy that comes to me every so often as a father, when I look at 6-year-old Ellie, 9-year-old Grant and 12-year-old Jackson, as well, and I know with a surety that each of them will also be forgotten and replaced with older versions of themselves: 7-year-old Ellie, 10-year-old Grant and 13-year-old Jackson. While some days parenthood is thrillingly new, other days it is characterized by an emotion curiously like grief: mourning over the younger children.
So, in the middle of the road in front of our house, I made sure the three kids in the back seat all paused to wave back at Kennedy.
On our drive, we looked into the future, with the baby as our reference point. In 2022 Kennedy’s oldest brother, Jackson, will graduate from high school, just a few months before she turns 8. In 2024, Grant will graduate from high school, when Kennedy is in fourth grade — the same grade Grant is in now.
A far-off look spread across Grant’s face in the rearview mirror. “I can’t imagine her in fourth grade,” he said with a smile. “I can only picture a fourth-grader’s body with Kennedy’s tiny head.”
“When she’s older, she won’t be cute anymore,” said my 6-year-old, Ellie, a worried expression on her face.
“Sure she will,” I said. “She’ll just look different. Just like you look different now.”
I tried to impress upon them the emotion that I was feeling: that the time we have with each other isn’t very long. Soon, everyone is off to college and having their own families.
That knowledge should motivate us always to treat each other with kindness, so that we have good memories to keep with us all those years in the future.
Once the kids sensed that the lecture was over, of course, the fighting resumed in the back seat.
But am I similarly forgetful? When I get home from work each day, do I sit on the couch and busy myself with my phone or other nonessential pursuits?
Of late, I’ve been motivated to spend hours splicing together what to anyone else would be extremely boring home videos that, someday, when I’m old and gray, I will watch with my wife in our empty house as we count down the days until our next trip to see our grandchildren, should we be fortunate enough to have any.
What was going on in Kennedy’s head as she waved goodbye to her father and siblings that morning? She has no concept of time, no reason to think that life will ever change, that her days in that doorjamb are numbered. Most children lack any awareness of how temporary their situation is, how fleeting their crises. As we get older, the weight of time can be crushing, unless we become as little children again and live fully in each small moment as it comes: the passing of the ketchup, the basketball in the air on its way to the hoop in the driveway, the rich silence after family prayer.