Around this time of year, as the summer creeps up and school lets out, you’ll see them start to pop up. Like spring flowers that seem to sprout overnight in your garden, these messages appear quickly on social media, spreading quickly until they fill its landscape. They are the messages about kids who are graduating from one season of school or life and moving on to another.
And along with the inevitable sobbing emoji, there is almost always a part of each post from proud (or grateful or thrilled or just plain relieved) parents who beg for time to stop because their baby is growing up too fast.
Time moves fast, a wise-cracking Ferris Bueller once said. And like that movie that defined a generation, the statement itself could easily define parenthood. It goes by quickly. Blink, and you might miss it.
But every time I am tempted to join in and wax poetic on the fact that my children are no longer little and that we have moved past a particular season in life and where did the time go and please make it stop because I am not ready to lose them to adulthood which is seriously right around the corner, I force myself to stop. I force myself to change the way that I think about the fleeting moments in our lives.
And I think instead about the parents who stare at those posts and only wish that they could write a similar message. I think about the ones for whom time did indeed stop.
I think about those parents whose children are already gone, claimed by cancer or tragic accident or impossible-to-foresee circumstances
I think about the ones who will never hold their babies again, the ones who will never see their child take part in a graduation or a prom or another first day of school or a spring concert or a sporting event or an awards ceremony.
I think of the ones who live with frozen hope, the product of dreams unrealized, missions unaccomplished, earthly moments that stopped way too soon.
I think of the ones who cry different tears on these special days. The ones whose tears are not from joy, but stem instead from the unique pain born out of unimaginable loss. The ones whose cheeks are wet because the absence of a child creates a physical ache that will always have root somewhere in their heart. The ones that cry because of what should have been and who should have been. The ones whose eyes are filled to the brim in every family picture because they know that someone is always, always missing from the photograph.
I think of the ones who would give anything for their child to be part of the march of time, to grow into a gap-toothed elementary student, a tweenage middle schooler, a sulky junior higher, an almost-grown-up-but-still-childlike high schooler for whom the world holds nothing but promise and hope.
When I was young, one of the boys in my neighborhood who was my age and in my grade died of leukemia. I thought of him at every major school event until I graduated from high school. The rest of us on our block grew up, went to college, got married, forged careers, had families. He will always be 11 years old. He has been gone for more than 30 years and yet still I wonder, who might he have become had he gotten to grow up?
His death has in some ways framed the way that I think about parenting. Because of that loss, and others that I have witnessed, I will never ask time to stop. It’s not fair to those for whom time did precisely that.
My baby graduated from 5th grade today. He turns 11 years old in a couple of months and starts at our local sixth grade center in the fall. After he accepted his certificate this morning, the one that says he is an elementary school graduate, he took his place in the line of his classmates, found my face in the sea of parents, and smiled that goofy grin of his. Yep, I cried.
I used to roll my eyes at the idea of a pre-school graduation and a kindergarten graduation and a fifth grade graduation. It always seemed like schools everywhere were playing it fast and loose with the term “graduation” when some of the younger participants in them can’t even say the word.
But then I remember my neighbor, the one who is also, still, forever 11. And I think about his parents and how much they would have loved to be at every one of those ceremonies. To see him living his life. My attitude changed.
Now I go to these celebrations and I cry through each one, like I did today. I cry through baseball tournaments and band concerts and art shows. I cry because I love to see who my children are becoming because of great teachers and unique experiences and a lot of hard work in the past year. I cry not because I mourn that they are older but because I am so very grateful that they are older, that they are another step closer to becoming the amazing people that I know God intended them to be from the very beginning.
Time does travel fast. But don’t complain about the speed or wish it to be different. Instead, be grateful for the front row seat you still have to the remarkable lives your children are living. And always remember those who wished they were sitting next to you.