My Kids Are Growing Up
by Tommy Paley
Author’s Note: I wrote this piece when my 12 1/2 year old daughter was 9 1/2 and I never published it, until now. It is as meaningful and salient now as it was then, if not more so.
The other morning as we were racing to get out of the house on time, my 9 year-old daughter (“I’m nine-and-a-half dad!”) proclaimed apropos of nothing “I feel like a teenager”.
“You’ve got a few years to go still, sweetie. There’s no rush — enjoy being 9.” I replied “Any reason why you are thinking that right now?”
And then she went back to playing with, I mean doing, her hair in front of the bathroom mirror somewhat ignoring my pleas to hurry up.
At work yesterday, I overheard a conversation in the office where one staff member was talking about their youngest moving out and how different it felt at home. It got me thinking about the inevitable day when that happens to us.
While I have my activities — squash, ultimate frisbee, yoga, and writing — my entire life revolves around my kids; my family. It has been my existence for the past 9 1/2 years and, while I constantly wish I could somehow have more free time, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
We spend so much time together and it’s great. Almost all weekend we do family activities and during the week I’m driving them to lessons and we spend so much time talking in the car or around the dinner table or in the evening doing homework.
We are close.
As I’ve written numerous times before, I always wanted to be a husband and a father and I love my wife and kids tremendously. Life was incomplete without them and life will be so different when the kids are no longer needing or wanting to be with us all the time. It will be strange.
I’m not looking forward to it. At all.
When our youngest moves out, I know parenting won’t just stop at that moment. I know I have a special connection to both of my kids and I imagine that when they are living outside of our house, that I will still have daily fathering to do. And I’ll still want to have a strong connection to both of my kids. It will be different than now, but it will be equally as important and meaningful.
But, the house will feel empty.
And, honestly, I feel sad thinking about it.
The positives will be that I’ll have tons of time for writing, cooking intricate meals during the week and my wife and I will be able to go to yoga classes together (currently a rare treat) or just hang out with each without having to worry about “who has the kids?”
I’ll also be at a different point in my life. At 44, I still feel young. I still do all of the activities I started in my 20s and, while clearly older, am still able to participate at a good level. When the kids leave home, I’ll be in my early 60s (shudder) and maybe I’ll be aching for some peace and quiet for once! Maybe. But, more likely is the reality that I’d do anything to drive them to just one more dance class or piano lesson or play date. Or to spend an afternoon playing board games or running around in a playground.
Is this inevitable?
Is there any way I can approach life and parenting over the next bunch of years so that I can somehow avoid or lessen the feeling of missing the past?
I don’t live with lots of regrets -it’s just not how I see things. But, when I am in my 60s and my career is winding down and my kids are no longer kids, how can I not wish to hold my little daughters on my lap one more time as we tickle and giggle like I did when they were little? Or hold their hand when we cross the street or teach them something that they don’t understand?
If I just hug them every moment I get and never be too busy to play another game or stop whatever I’m doing and be with them, will that help?
The days just go flying by. It’s amazing how fast life goes. All of a sudden these two girls of ours, who were once babies the other day, are reaching previously out of reach items, going to cross country and ballet classes, studying for tests and sounding and looking less and less like little kids with each passing day.
How I wish we had so much more time for the four of us to just be together. But life is always so busy and our schedule is always full of fun, engaging activities. There is so little downtime. I just want to press pause for a little while to really enjoy this period of time right now before they get older.
Not that I don’t want them to grow up, but I wish there was some way for it to happen more slowly. And a part of me worries about them being teenagers who don’t want to spend time with their dad. I never want there to be a time when the four of us aren’t close. I hope, regardless of our ages, that I can always put my arms around my girls and give them a hug or a squeeze. I hope that we can always drop everything and play a game or bake cookies or go for a swim.
I anticipate feeling sad and lost when they both move out and maybe leave Vancouver and maybe only see each other a few times a year. I try not to think about that. It will be so hard not to see them everyday. It may sound selfish, but I hope they always live nearby. That they want to be nearby. And that they are close with each other as well.
So much will change as we all grow older.
And I generally embrace change.
But the idea of my 9 1/2 year old feeling like a teenager and the idea of them both moving out someday makes me want some, basic things to never change.
Being close. Being together. Laughing. Hugging. Being one.
I hope, with every ounce of strength that I have, that we are always as close as we are right now.
Is that too much to ask?