This past weekend at the Greenville High School “Floorshow” (a 74-year-old GHS tradition), the graduating seniors took the floor with their respective parents of the opposite sex to participate in the traditional senior-parent dance. Ashley came and found Mike, and they joined the others in dancing to Trace Atkins' country song, “You're Gonna Miss This.” As I watched them, I cried.
“You're gonna miss this;
You're gonna want this back.
You're gonna wish these days
Hadn't gone by so fast.
These are some good times
So take a good look around.
You may not know it now,
But you're gone miss this.”
What a profoundly true song.
I turned 49 this month. (I still don't know how that happened, but that's a topic for another day.) I have given birth to five children in the thirty years Mike and I have been married. Only two are left at home, and one of them (Ashley) will graduate from high school in about three weeks. Our “baby” turned fifteen just last Friday. The other three are out on their own, two of them married and with children of their own.
All of this is unfathomable to me, even though I've been here, watching it happen. It is beyond surreal, into the realm of the unreal, to see by babies growing up, going away, having babies of their own.
If I close my eyes, I still can remember with a vividness that borders on time travel holding my newborn first child in my arms. The fear I could taste when we drove home from the hospital with her in the back seat. “I can't believe they're letting us leave with her,” we marveled to each other. “Don't they realize how clueless and utterly unprepared we are?” We were twenty.
I remember the exhaustion of sleepless nights with teething infants. The tears our first night home with our first son, because I knew I'd have to change his diaper and I was terrified of hurting his circumcision. The endless diaper changes after that, and the constant face-washing and hand-washing and piles of laundry and mountains of dirty dishes. The terror in the emergency room with a badly cut finger on one child. The laughter when our second daughter arrived ten years after the first, with two boys in between — Rachel and I looked forward to dressing up our new little doll and Mike cringed at the shopping trips he foresaw as we indulged our delight in little pink frilly things. The pride as we watched dance recitals and piano recitals and soccer games. The constant worry that I was making the wrong choices and ruining my children's lives. The crushing sense of responsibility that sometimes overwhelmed me with five small children at home.
I remember running short on money and patience and answers as the kids grew through infancy and toddlerhood and childhood. I remember lots of laughter, and lots of tears, and more shouting than I care to admit. I remember that when I was in the middle of it all, with five young children at home and never enough time or money, it seemed sometimes like we'd never survive it.
And then those days suddenly were past. Older moms had warned me how quickly and unexpectedly it would come, but I didn't believe them. But one day, our oldest graduated from high school and went off to college. Then our second graduated and went to college for a year, and then suddenly was off to serve his country in the Navy. Our third graduated, and promptly joined his brother in the Navy. Our oldest married and gave birth to our first grandchild. Our second married and the next year presented us with our second grandchild.
Now our fourth child is about to graduate from high school, and our fifth will follow her in just three short years. Impossible as it still seems to me, we're only three years away from an empty nest.
I watch it and think, “How can this be?” How can time have gone by so fast? How can my babies have turned into these . . . adults?
And what I've been thinking ever since I watched that poignant father-daughter dance is, how much did I miss, during all those years past, because I was so absorbed by the hard work of raising a family that I wasn't experiencing the joy of the experience?
I wish I could go back to my younger self and say, “Don't worry so much. It'll be okay. Experience this moment, no matter how crazy or exhausting, as a thing of joy. Because sooner than you can imagine, these days will be gone. And, unbelievable as it may seem when you're in the midst of it all, you're gonna miss this.”
And I do.