Reflections on the Gains and Losses of Maturing Children

I found this on my hard drive this morning: a piece I’d written a first draft of almost exactly four years ago, but never got around to publishing. While it’s outdated in several ways now, I still thought it worth sharing belatedly.

Last month, I walked one of our kids to school for what will be the last time.

The occasion is not catastrophic. I have no fatal illness. Our kids have not been thrown out of school. We’ve not decided that public education is irredeemably flawed, nor are we starting out own magnet school for gifted children with our own surname. The cause, in this case, is the same one we all face: the march of time.

Maggie, our youngest, has just finished up her 5th grade year at Crockett Elementary. The school she will be attending next year is Miller, a Middle School which lacks Crockett’s one-block proximity to our home. Though we still have many years before we face the challenges of an empty nest, this melancholy-tinged march was a foretaste of things to come.

Already I have marked with sadness milestones along the way. Loose teeth are far less frequent around our house than once they were. I’m reminded of one exceptional day when Liam loudly announced that he’d lost a tooth, proudly displayed it for all to see, and then went back to jumping on the trampoline, only to announce 30 minutes later that he had lost another one.

I often see activities coming up on the library’s calendar and get excited about taking the kids, only to realize belatedly that our kids are all past the age where they would hold any interest. “Ooh, hey, a puppet show! The Billy Goats Gruff! Great Story! Oh, wait…my youngest child is now eleven, and billy goats now lack their former charm.”

Saddest for me is the fact that having an adventure becomes progressively more difficult. When a child is young, merely being in the world is a grand, continuous process of discovery. The bar is then raised a bit, but is still easy to clear: a simple walk through the neighborhood yields deer sightings, fascinating clouds, nests of insects. Later, once the neighborhood has become familiar, going to the park or down to the river is necessary to renew that sense of wonder and excitement. And, of course, it’s natural that doing something with one’s parents moves from a consistent delight to something less wonderful. (We have been singularly fortunate in that regard, as even our teenagers seem to still enjoy our company.)

But with these miniature tragedies also come a variety of joys. Each of our young people has such a rich, distinct personality that discovering them is a constant, unfolding delight, like watching a tree bloom and mature over the course of years. One develops an interest in music, and does great in band. Another has a sly sense of humor that continuously surprises and delights me. This one does amazing art; that one takes up theater.

And while adventures become more difficult to come by, they also become bigger and more exciting. We get to go SCUBA diving together. We play open mics together. We design and produce computer and card games. We build (and blow up) a huge variety of things in lumber and lego. We travel and explore the world around us. We explore other worlds that we have invented, tell each other stories that get more engaging with each passing year, and challenge and spur each other on to richer and deeper relationships with those around us.

With each swing of the sun across the sky, I have fractionally less of a child, and a tiny bit more of a friend. And that’s a trade that, while it comes with a bit of sadness for opportunities lost, is well worth making.

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