My wife and I are joining my extended family this week for a cruise to celebrate my dad’s upcoming 90th birthday. It’s a special treat for Lisa and me to have all our kids and daughter-in-law together, within walking distance.
Most of you reading this post have your kids with you every day, and it’s a bit difficult to truly appreciate something that is always there. But perhaps you can let an empty nester look back so that you can make the most of this blessed (but temporary) season when your children are at home.
If I could say anything to myself twenty years ago, it would be, “Gary, raising children is a season. It won’t last forever.”
I always knew that, but it didn’t drive my heart, even though there were occasional glimpses.
I was away on a speaking trip once, walking through a mall, when I saw a little girl run up to her dad, his arms laden with packages.
“Daddy? Will you carry me? My legs are tired.”
The young father sighed, moved all his packages from one hand to the other, and scooped up his little girl into one arm.
That’s when it hit me: when was the last time I had carried one of my children through the mall because their little legs were too tired to walk?
I couldn’t remember.
How I wish someone had told me, “Gary, this is the last time you’ll get to do this. Take a mental snapshot of this moment. Relish it. Taste it. You’ll never experience it again.”
In a desperate attempt to recapture what was lost, I returned home and asked my then twelve-year-old daughter, “Kelsey, can I carry you through the mall one last time?”
You can imagine how a twelve-year-old girl would respond to that.
One day you’re looking for a changing table, a crib, a clean diaper bag, becoming familiar with the smells of baby powder and Desitin; the next day you’re buying a bed that looks like a car, or decorating a room to make it look like a castle; then you’re purchasing shin guards or ballet slippers or a violin; one month later, it feels like you’re actually talking about whether to buy or rent the graduation gown (never buy).
And then it’s over.
The house goes quiet.
The backseat of your car is actually clean: no Cheese-its; no sippy cups. No fast food wrappers or sweaty uniforms. In fact, you can go 5,000 miles without anybody ever sitting in the backseat.
I wish I had known that all those vacuum jobs were signposts of abundance, as if I was depositing ridiculously large checks in a bank account of rich memories. Sign the check, deposit. Vacuum the car, remember why it got dirty.
I wish I had done that.
It’s hard to believe, but there was a time when we just wanted to get Graham to pee into a toilet bowl.
My wife had tried everything, but Graham preferred the diaper. Lisa read about a brilliant idea and we decided to test it. I drew a picture of a fire on a piece of toilet paper, threw the toilet paper into the bowl, and yelled, with great urgency, “Hey, bud, come put out the fire!”
Graham took one look at that fire and did what a fireman has to do…
Is it possible to miss potty time?
Yes, it is.
One day, we clapped because Graham finally peed in the toilet bowl. Today, he’s getting an MBA from Harvard.
I love it that I can call Graham and discuss Plato’s Symposium. I appreciate that he knows far more about investments than I ever will. But part of me still misses a little boy just learning to “put out the fire.”
Don’t let this season slip away. Seize it. Every day of it. Early church father John Chrysostom offers much wisdom when he tells ancient husbands, “Show your wife that you value her company and prefer being at home to being out.”
It’s a good sign if you can’t wait to get home; it’s a bad sign if you’re finding more and more excuses to stay away from home.
I’ve seen both husbands and wives, at various points in their lives, find creative ways to get out of the house. Everybody needs some time away once in a while. But when you prefer to stay out of the house, that’s a problem. You’re missing something very special.
If God offered me and Lisa three months of luxury accommodations and an unlimited budget to explore Europe, or one weekend back in our tiny townhouse when the kids were all younger than ten and money had to be counted by the pennies (and we drove a car that died every time we took a sharp right-hand turn), we’d both take the weekend with our little kids, without even hesitating.
Young parent—this is a rich season. It’s tiring. It’s messy. It keeps you awake, but someday, sooner than you can believe, I bet you’d give up a luxury vacation just to get one of these weekends back.
Seize this season. Remember it. Let it wash over you and treat these days with your kids like the golden treasures that they are.