My daughter graduated this past June and has spent the summer attending going away parties for her friends who are leaving for far-flung colleges and 18th birthday parties. My own child turns 18 in a matter of months and it is the end of an unseen ruler that I held out for her years ago.
You see, it has always been my wish that my kids not be in too big a hurry to grow up. Childhood is such a short amount of time and adulthood and, well, I don’t know about you but doesn’t it just seem to be dragging on forever? The trick, for me, has always been how to impress upon a young mind the idea that childhood is a fleeting thing and a most precious gift to be cherished. Enter: the timeline.
My Great Aunt Annie, who was really like a grandmother to me growing up, had the good fortune and genetics to live to the awesome old age of 107. I’m known for my typos – but that’s not one of them. Ann Brosemer lived to be one hundred and seven years old, a centenarian of the finest kind. And up until the age of 106 she was still walking two miles a day on the treadmill. She flossed her teeth religiously (I know, because we shared a bathroom when I was young and I was serenaded to sleep by the twang-twang-twang of her nightly dental routine) and when she died she had every single one of her own teeth (which shocked the nurses at the hospital who tried repeatedly to pull out her “false teeth” because they said that nobody that old could have their own teeth). Annie read daily and wasn’t picky about the material either -- any scrap of newspaper, magazine or advertisement that landed on our kitchen table, she read. She claimed that it was important to keep the wheels churning in her mind to stay sharp and on top of her game. It worked, too. She was one of the smartest women I’ve ever known and I was lucky to have her in my orbit for as long as I did. Even losing her at 107 I feel as though I was robbed, because there was so much more for I needed to learn from her.
One day, my little girl made a flip remark about how she just couldn’t wait to grow up. She made this comment when she was approximately 8 or 9 years old. She was staring down the pipeline of finishing elementary school, a time when all kids seem to be done with “baby” things and looking with an eye toward “teen” things and all of the heady ideas that entails. Ptth! It was a Pandora’s Box I wanted to avoid opening as long as we could.
After pacing around the den for a few minutes, I took a long sheet of paper and drew out a timeline of life, a truly fortunate and lucky life – one where the universe (and good living and genetics) lets you live to be more than 100 years old. On this timeline I drew approximate intervals that showed various milestones like the handful of single digit birthdays that lead to a long (hopefully) lifetime of double digits (maybe even TRIPLE digits), the exciting Golden birthday (consisting of the year you turn the age of your month, for my girl the year she turned 11 in November), junior high, high school, first date, winter formal, driver’s license, prom, graduation, the right to vote (and buy a lottery ticket), turning 21 … and finally: adulthood. Adulthood didn’t have as many big events, but I include the important ones like college, employment, possible marriage and retirement. I also showed her that her adult years took up the majority of the paper and pointed out that my time with her, was a very tiny portion of the timeline – less than two inches out of 22. Holding her sweet face in my hands I told her, “You see this? This is all I get. The only years that I get to have you under my wings, the time I have to influence you, teach you and impress upon you the lessons that have to last you the rest of your life on your own – potentially 89 years. Please don’t be in such a hurry to get to the finish line of being a grown-up. There’s SO much time for that. Enjoy what little time you have to truly be a kid.”
In addition to the short speech I gave that day, I have often referred to that timeline as the years have gone by, reminding my little girl to run through the sprinklers while she still can. Telling her to relish the taste of cotton candy, snowcones and bubblegum before her tastebuds become refined and more adult. Begging her not to engage in activities or relationships before her brain or heart are ready for them, as there are so many adult years ahead to deal with those things.
There are three months until the circled expiration date on my daughter’s timeline, the day when she officially exits childhood. I have already decided that I will not shed tears on that day, because I’m truly excited to see who my daughter will become as she takes on the mantle of being an adult, partly because I’m so proud of who she has been as a child. I can only hope that I have the good fortune to spend the next 59 years to watch it all unfold (hopefully eating cotton candy, snowcones and chewing bubblegum as I do).