All the trees outside my window have leaves today. Full leaves, not just buds. I sit at this desk every day, but last time I remember looking out the window, the trees had only the tiniest buds. I remember thinking that spring comes so late to Wisconsin. I remember staring out the window, between paragraphs, wondering when the leaves would arrive. And then today, I look out, and boom — leafy trees. Green everywhere. Looking out the window, I am so happy to see the greenness and the bright pink of the crabapple tree, but I wonder when it happened. I know the buds didn’t become leaves overnight. Why didn’t I take note as the buds grew? Did I go weeks without looking out the window or did I look without seeing? Why do the leaves appearing seem sudden to me, instead of gradual, as I know was the reality?
I fear the same thing is happening to my children. Jamie goes on the potty now. Her diaper pail has been empty for how long? Two weeks? Three? I honestly don’t know. One day she said she wanted to go on the potty, and each day after that, she stayed dry longer and longer. I bought her some underwear, knowing full well that she could be back in diapers the next day, but she wasn’t. She potty trained herself — my first child to do this. I had nothing to do with it, and because of that, I can’t say when it happened exactly. She is likely our youngest child, and I will probably never buy a pack of diapers again, until I buy them for our grandchildren. Yet, at the time I bought my last pack of diapers, I had no idea it would be my last. It wasn’t even the biggest size.
Liam is reading Harry Potter books. Wasn’t he just reading those easy chapter books last month? Or was it the month before? Where did Harry Potter come from? I guess, if I really thought about it, I would admit that I saw some Beverly Clearys in between the easy chapter books and the 300-page Harry Potter. But it still feels sudden. My little Liam, curled up on the couch with such a big book.
Jacob is in contacts. He’s never worn glasses, but we took him to the eye doctor and it turned out he needed corrected vision. Apparently, age 11 is old enough for contacts. So now, as the kids get ready in the morning, I walk past the bathroom to see Jacob, index finger to his eye, putting in his contacts. Wasn’t I just brushing his teeth for him last week? It wasn’t last week, I remind myself. It was when he was three. But sometimes that feels like last week. And now he wears contacts.
Growth is such a strange thing to witness as a parent. I eagerly await a stage of childhood to end so that my child is bigger and more capable, but then when it does finally end, I look back wistfully at what used to be. I look at picture albums from two years past and am amazed at how young my children look.
I am still learning how to appreciate the moment — to really live in the moment as a parent and experience who my children are right now. It’s the only way I know of to slow down time.
Once, when I was about 11, we had a snow day. The snow was so deep and drifted so high that no cars could pass in front of our house. I pulled on my jacket and snow pants, and went out in the early morning, before anyone had a chance to disturb the snow. I lay in a drift in the front of our house and looked up at the sky. I had never heard it so silent outside before. As I lay there, I thought to myself, “I will never forget this. I will never forget how the sky looks and how quiet it is.” I was completely present to the cold air, the gray sky, and the soft snow. I experienced a peace that I had not known before. And I never forgot that moment. That memory of lying outside in the snow is as clear to me today as it was the day after it happened. But it is so difficult to make a conscious decision to remember something— as much as we love our children, it is so hard to be completely present to them and nothing else. Yet without regularly taking time to give them our complete presence, we risk being startled with their growth. We risk having years of their life that are, at best, a hazy memory.
The reason, after all, that I didn’t see the buds change to leaves outside of my office window is that I wasn’t attentive to the buds. I had other things to do — articles to write, e-mails to send, and bills to pay. These were necessary things, and I don’t regret missing watching the buds change in order to do them. I know, too, that there are necessary things to get done as my children grow, and it would not be good for them — or for me — to be focused on my children every second of the day. But amid all the necessary things to get done, there are also some things that can be put aside. There are snowdrift opportunities being offered to me each week. Moments that I could remember for a lifetime, if only I’d choose to be present to them, and nothing else. And I pray I may put aside the unnecessary so as to be present to my children. So as not to spend my life wondering how the buds became leaves.