A few weeks ago, we went to her kindergarten orientation.
Parents are all the time saying things like “It goes by so fast” and “Before you know it…” I heard it all the time, I usually just shrugged at it as if it were a given fact. As it turns out, “it goes by so fast” is, in my experience, not true. The past five years have not gone by fast. They feel like at least five years, possibly more. Parenting is a bit like Louis CK’s joke about divorce: it’s a time machine that travels forward at exactly the same pace as actual time. Because, although it does not feel as if it has gone by fast, it is true that it came before I knew it.
Why do we not know it before things are here? How come every new little milestone arrives before I know it? Suddenly she’s about to go to kindergarten and I think, we’re here already? And then I think, of course we’re here already; it’s been five years. It only feels fast because I let it sneak up on us, and I let it sneak up on us because I kind of didn’t want it to get here and so I tricked myself into thinking it would take more than five years. But it doesn’t. It takes exactly as long as it takes.
As adults, we can trick ourselves into not seeing ourselves age. Some of that is because we age slower than children do. I haven’t had a growth spurt in several decades. I measure advancing age these days mostly by the increased discovery of muscle pains and the hopes that my hairs go gray instead of disappearing altogether. Children, on the other hand, are impossible to ignore as they grow. We buy my daughter a new pair of shoes every six weeks. Every other day we have to redress her in the morning because something no longer fits her. American adults are in denial about getting older, but children force us to reckon with the unstoppable march of time by changing and growing in obvious, demonstrable, concrete ways all the time. It’s like when I get caught up in some task at work that consumes my time and energy and then I look up at the clock and think, it’s 4:30 already? Except that it’s been a long day and of course it’s time to go home.
I am not aging any slower or faster than my child. I’m getting older at the same pace as she is. Because God wanted to rub this in my face, my child was born on my birthday. Sharing a birthday with your child means a) you have to really work to get people to celebrate your birthday in adult ways; and b) you cannot forget that you and your child are getting older. It’s crazy: every year she gets older, but so do I! It happens before I even know it! Except that I should know it, because the math stays pretty consistent. I can’t catch up to her youth nor can my wisdom catch up to my earlier lack of knowledge. I look at my own baby pictures and think, my parents were younger in that picture than I am now. Which seems impossible for my younger self to have noticed, but you can’t go back to appreciate youthfulness before it’s gone.
Six years from now we’ll be preparing for middle school. It will take exactly six years. In that time I we will have six joint birthdays. It won’t be any faster than time has ever moved. I will be six years older and so will she. And it will be here before I know it. Not because it’s fast, but because I don’t want to know it. I’ll look up and think, Is it sixth grade already? Oh right, it’s been six years, but I’ve been too busy buying her new shoes and counting my gray hairs before I lose them. It’s so much more comforting to not know something is coming so that when it gets here it’s always before we know it. Sixth grade, ninth grade, college, graduation. And then I retire and then I die and all of it before I knew.
I suppose I could pay more attention to the future so I’ll be prepared. But truthfully, I like not knowing until it’s here. I’d prefer to enjoy the buying of shoes instead of focusing on where we’ll buy bigger sizes when she needs them. It doesn’t go by fast, it just goes by, but I like the surprise. Kindergarten already? Of course. And – it came before I knew it. My baby’s getting older, just like the rest of us.