The other day I think my heart almost stopped.
Someone mentioned how much they liked an essay I wrote about the struggles of being as single parent. Although I first wrote it in 2012, I still get compliments on it whenever it gets republished or people happen to bump into it.
This recent social media kudos wasn’t so grand a gesture that is caused me to have palpitations. It was the sudden realization that this piece was written when my son was 14 year old and just starting high school. He will be ending this journey soon. Four full years had already zipped by me, and my once nervous boy with somewhat questionable wardrobe skills had been replaced by a much taller, more confident and better dressed young man.
Where the hell did all that time go? Had I been tricked into believing that my baby with the curly afro and chubby cheeks was now a tall young man with more hair on his face than his head? Or maybe I’d been locked away in some twisted Dungeons and Dragons lair strictly for overbearing mothers. Surely time hadn’t gone by right before my eyes without me knowing, right?
But alas, surely it has. And now I am writing about his excitement at having received the first of what I believe will be several college acceptance letters. I share in his excitement, as I know how difficult things had been for him over the last few years and how hard he has worked in the last 12 months to improve. But pardon me if I’m clueless as to how we’ve come to the point in our lives where he is preparing to go off to college when not too long ago we were preparing to send him to kindergarten.
Do you know why it is cliché for people to say that time goes by so fast? It’s because it really does. And even though we all know this to be true, we still seem dumbfounded when this truth is so painfully proven to us repeatedly. It is much easier for people to make a very general statement to sum up time’s passing than to actually admit how heartbreaking it is to realize that we can’t get that time–and the wonderful feelings, experiences and people that go along with it–back. We may have our memories to either comfort us or wound us at night. We can look at old photos and smile at moments come and gone. But for reasons unknown to me, some sadist somewhere has made it totally impossible for us to ever go back in time to relive all those good times and feelings that folks write songs about. This could not be any more true than it is when it comes to being a mother.
That hard truth is what sends my heart racing. However, as a mother I’ve gotten quite used to all the usual chest pains and palpitations that come with having a child: the chilling one you get when the doctor tells you it’s a broken arm and not just a sprain; or the really intense ones when you let him drive on the expressway for the first time; and then the gut wrenching ones when you discover that you are no longer the pretty lady he’s in love with (I haven’t gotten used to that one yet). But this crazy notion that for 18 years at least, we as mothers will give all of our love, time, energy, worry and attention to these beautiful creatures, only to, at the end of it all, just let them…go?! That’s even more sadistic than that whole time flying by thing.
When he was a young child and still infatuated with me, college was a far-away thought that my brain wasn’t ready for. But now, that far-away thought is a here-and-now reality. The years have come and gone in such a blur that I believed 10 years ago was just yesterday and tomorrow wouldn’t come for a while.
I often tell married couples contemplating children two pieces of advice if they ask. The first piece of advice is to just not have the rugrats. Now I don’t tell them this because I don’t like children or think people shouldn’t have any. I say it because I know that, as parents they will experience a love so great and a life so full that they will never want it all to end. The second piece of advice I offer is that if they do choose to have them, then they should always, in every way possible cherish every single moment with their children. Cherish every bedtime story they want you to read, every wet kiss they want to give. Cherish the birthday parties, the doctor check-ups, the messy rooms and the inevitable fights over nothing and everything. You can’t get that time back, and neither can they.
For now I’ll be content with self-medicating my ailing heart with fond memories, like our trip to Vancouver where we were just two kids exploring a city we had never been. The times he asks to take the long way home, after his basketball games, just so we can talk and listen to his favorite music that I don’t like. Our ritual of watching Saturday Night Live together, despite the fact that we haven’t found that show funny in years. And all the times he seems to know exactly when I need a good joke to distract me from whatever mess the world threw at me that day. I imagine that’s exactly what they were meant for.
Hilary Christian is a freelance writer and fundraiser from Chicago who is a regular contributor to For Harriet, and her work has also been featured in Wild Sister Magazine and Corset Magazine. Check out her site, follow her at @HilChristian and like her Facebook.