…but then it occurred to me that never again would he be seven years, one month, and six days old, so we had better catch these moments while we can. -Bill Bryson
My wife Amy was recently in a play in which her character’s family was, after many years, selling their family farm. In one scene, she’s reflecting with her teenaged son about the memories they shared in the house, and she dreamily reminisces about the bedtime stories she had made up for him when he was a young boy. She ends this scene with the line, “I don’t remember the last time I told you one of those stories.”
On this day, as Nick enters fourth grade, I found this line particularly profound. My son is growing up, and there are lots of things I “used to do” with him that he’s now grown out of. But, just like Amy’s character, I don’t remember the last time I did those particular things with him.
It’s not like, one night before bedtime, we agreed that tonight would be the last “Nicky, the Skunk and the Dinosaur” story we’d make up together (based on my son and two of his favorite stuffed animals, and especially on my son’s then-obsession with the idea of them racing around the country needing to hit all 50 states to win, as well as the Dinosaur’s obsession with finding and eating “uncooked meat”).
Instead, the stories just gradually ended, replaced by reading a chapter of a Roald Dahl classic each night, recapping the Yankees game, or quizzing each other on Star Wars characters.
Most of the time, I LOVED co-creating and telling these stories, especially as we expanded the cast of characters to many other stuffed animals and his real-life best friends (especially Jesse and Lucas). But some nights, I bristled and resisted. Some nights, I grew impatient when Nick would “correct” my story by insisting on some detail or another. Sometimes, I was just tired and wanted a quick hug before turning out the lights.
Most of the time, I stayed for a quick story and was glad I did. But now I look back and miss the Skunk and the Dinosaur, and I kick myself for not fully appreciating the stories at the time. I miss “Nicky” too- he now insists on the more grown-up sounding “Nick.” (I miss Buzz Lightyear, Wubbzy, Blue’s Clues, Curious George, blowing bubbles, and lots of other Nicky stuff, too.)
There are still lots of fun things we do together, and many things we’ll always remember. However, thanks to Amy’s character’s line, I will now be more conscious of our dad-and-son rituals, less likely to put Nick off when he asks me to play lightsabers or film his elaborate “Epic Fail,” or work on his batting stance or help him put together the LEGO version of Jabba’s Sail Barge.
Instead, I resolve to say yes to his requests, and to soak it in every time (I can almost always make up the 1/2 hour of work or writing after he goes to bed). After all, skunks and dinosaurs don’t live forever. You never know when the next time you do something together is the last time you do that thing together. Perhaps we all could resolve to do this- to catch these moments while we can.
I wrote on this theme twice before, using a passage from Bill Bryson’s “On Losing a Son (to College)” from his book I’m a Stranger Here Myself. Here’s that passage- it always reminds me of what’s important (I dare you not to tear up):
This may get a little sentimental, and I’m sorry, but yesterday evening I was working at my desk when my youngest child came up to me, a baseball bat perched on his shoulder and a cap on his head, and asked me if I felt like playing a little ball with him. I was trying to get some important work done before going away on a long trip, and I very nearly declined with regrets, but then it occurred to me that never again would he be seven years, one month, and six days old, so we had better catch these moments while we can.
So we went out onto the front lawn and here is where it gets sentimental. There was a kind of beauty about the experience so elemental and wonderful I cannot tell you – the way the evening sun fell across the lawn, the earnest eagerness of his young stance, the fact that we were doing this most quintessentially dad-and-son thing, the supreme contentment of just being together – and I couldn’t believe that it would ever have occurred to me that finishing an article or writing a book or doing anything at all could be more important and rewarding than this.
Now what has brought on all this sudden sensitivity is that a week or so ago we took our eldest son off to a small university in Ohio. He was the first of our four to fly the coop, and now he is gone – grown up, independent, far away – and I am suddenly realizing how quickly they go.
Do you have any favorite memories of when your kids were younger that you’d like to share? Let’s discuss in the comments section
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