Monday, July 27, 2015

Time toddles forward

From Saturday's Briefing:

Parenthood creates a conflicting mix of wishing everything would stay exactly the same way it is right now and wishing everything would completely evolve into something else.

You adore the way a child says “gla-gasses” and “pa-sketti” (in lieu of “glasses” and “spaghetti”), and you refuse to correct her, holding on to the youthful charm it represents.

Then one day, you can’t even pinpoint when, the correct pronunciation is adopted. Months go by, then you hear a toddler mispronounce a word, and your heart reaches back for your own toddler, long since moved on.

Another child may have been infamous for the meltdowns that occurred at the end of every visit to the neighborhood pool. No matter how many gentle countdowns provided, the young person, upon learning that it was indeed time to leave, would collapse as if the summer heat had instantaneously liquefied his bones.

On the drive home, between deep cleansing breaths, you would discuss the connection between behavior and consequences while silently wondering how many more pool visits you could tolerate.

Then one visit, without fanfare, the same child willingly towels off, slides back into sandals and flip-flops to the parking lot — no tears, no threats, no deep breaths required. Your heart soars, ignoring for a moment yet another sign that childhood refuses to stand still.

There’s nothing more perplexing and gratifying, frustrating and soothing, as raising these sweet souls, these children I’ve been entrusted to shepherd to adulthood.

For years Katie has struggled with medical appointments. At her first ophthalmology appointment, three people were enlisted to administer eye drops. She’s required sedation to have a cavity filled.

After suffering allergies for years, she visited a specialist for skin testing. The ensuing tears and squalls forced us to quit halfway through. There’s a whole list of potential allergens that she might react to, but for now, they remain a mystery.

So, this summer when I learned she would need to visit an orthopedist to investigate recently developed scoliosis, I readied for the worst. I explained everything that I expected would happen at the visit. I asked a couple of friends to join me in praying for a smooth exam. I took a few deep cleansing breaths as we waited in the lobby.

The entire appointment was easy, calm, totally free of drama.

Have we turned a corner? Has Katie, at the age of 10, matured enough to make all future medical appointments tolerable — even, perhaps, enjoyable? Maybe, but there’s no point in hoping for time to freeze. Time never stops — and besides, what might we miss if we don’t accept that the people around us are growing?

Cooper hasn’t been home much this summer. He spent a week in Florida, serving churches and missions. He spent a week in a Louisiana swamp, kayaking and fishing. He spent a week in East Texas, swimming and biking and being a 14-year-old boy.

While in Florida, he and his youth group tidied up a church building. He cleaned out gutters, weeded flowerbeds and spread mulch. He even scraped from the attic floor the remains of an unidentified, decayed animal.

I’ve taught Cooper a long list of household skills, but I’ve never modeled for him gutter-cleaning or mulch-spreading or carcass-scraping. He learned all that with on-the-job training, away from home. (I quickly enlisted him to apply the mulch skills at home upon his return. Our flowerbeds look much snappier now.)

No matter how often we wish a child would stay exactly this way right now — or how often we close our eyes and mutter or pray for changes right away — time takes over. A child who cheerfully helps with yard work today may grumble about it next week. A child who braves the doctor’s office tomorrow may cower in fear next month.

Regardless of how much time passes, of how quickly children change — with or without fanfare — there’s one guarantee: Your parent heart will lurch and ache, soar and sing — sometimes all at once.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at
Cooper and Katie, July 2005

Cooper and Katie, July 2015

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