June 20, 2018

Seize the Season

Gary Thomas — 

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.

I wish.

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.

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16 responses to Seize the Season

  1. Chris Childress June 20, 2018 at 11:35 am

    What a wonderful post! I know I’ve always been a little nostalgic, and did indeed see those days passing when our daughter, our only child, was younger. I am blessed to have enjoyed an OUTSTANDING relationship with her from birth to present. I was so happy to take the early morning feedings when she was an infant. It gave my wife an opportunity to sleep a little later and it provided some of the best bonding/memory-making times with my baby girl. The pain that men usually start feeling when we just think about a dance recital faded quickly each time I saw how excited she was getting as recital day approached. Not to mention finally seeing how adorable she was in those dance outfits or how her confidence grew with each year of dance class and recitals. I do indeed miss those days. But sometimes things happen in our lives that can cause us to become more reflective.

    In October 2016, just 11 days shy of her one year wedding anniversary, our daughter was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor, an anaplastic ependymoma, and had a craniotomy to remove the tumor from her occipital lobe. As you can imagine this was like a kick to the gut for our entire family. Her surgery and six weeks of radiation went well and now her new normal is to get an MRI of her brain every six months.

    Now more than ever those memories of her childhood come to mind. I have a much clearer understanding that every day was and is a beautiful gift from an amazingly gracious God that loves us more than we could possibly understand. I would give anything to go back and enjoy those days again. But I also know that I can get so focused on remembering those days that I stop making memories now. For me, it’s about always remembering, reflecting often, and getting better at enjoying today so I can make memories for tomorrow. Ten years from now I’ll be remembering today…

  2. Carmen Grullon June 20, 2018 at 11:01 am

    Thank you for maling me cry so early! I can on Ditto DITTO ditto! My biggest treasure is my 3 children, now adults and successful and too busy. Waiting for them to say a word of appreciation some day. Waiting on the Lord and praying for true repentance and commitment to Christ. Grateful for the privilege of raising them and wishing I could go back and do it all over again. It was a true blessing to dedicate my life, time and resources to such a unique blessing from the Lord. Thank you Gary for reminding us the brevity of this time.

  3. I know you’re right… I know I will miss pieces of this. But I am so thankful for my mom’s advice when I expressed frustration over the cliche “Enjoy every moment, you’ll miss this when it’s over.” My Mom told me to just “Enjoy moments of it. Not every moment. Look for pockets of pleasure in the midst of monotony.” I love that phrase, pockets of pleasure. Because they are there if you look for them.

    But if any of you would like to feel nostalgic for a weekend, I’d be happy to let you borrow my 9, 7, 4-year-old, and 8-month-old!

    • My 4 children have those exact age differences. You’re in a very, very hectic time. Looking back, I can remember literally not feeling like I could breathe until my youngest was one. Keep going, and know it gets easier, and you’ll get to enjoy them more.

      My favorite time was when my oldest was 12 and youngest three. My oldest is now almost 23 and is in the Air Force and station in Japan. We have not been together as a family for six months, and I don’t know when we will be with my 20 year old in college, and 17 year old planning on the Air Force upon graduation.

      This post speaks to where I am now. I wish I would have slowed down and just lived with the little ones instead of trying to keep up with life…

  4. This is so true. As a mama with only my last of 4 children still in the house, I would love to have another weekend of all four kids young and in the house again. It goes way too fast!

  5. Dan Brodersen June 20, 2018 at 9:20 am

    I cried so hard reading it I almost couldn’t do it.
    What a truth that EVERYONE needs to be reminded off.

  6. Last night around 2:30, I rolled towards my husband and had my foot collide rather firmly with a tiny, clad in underware-only little form with spiked up hair and chubby cheeks curled up at the bottom of our bed.
    Our 5 year old son crawled into our bed secretly AGAIN last night (who knows when this started and how long it will last?).
    That disruption of desperately craved sleep (3rd time in the past week) created the backdrop for my 1st cup of coffee… as I sipped it slowly (and thankfully!) I scrolled through this post.
    I should probably just type the bawling emoji. Haha!
    Thank you, Gary! VERY timely encouragement.

  7. Jane Sirignano June 20, 2018 at 8:59 am

    What a blessing and comfort this post is. Thank you Gary!

    I didn’t realize that other parents felt the same way I did. I watched the days disappear into years gone by. It’s been 20 years since my son left home.

    Right now I am a grandmother and being a grandparent is similar to parenting. You watch the kids grow up fast. Each day with the kids is valuable.

    I knew parenting was for a season. When my son was born, I said to myself, “if I am lucky, I will have 18 years with my son. Myself, I left home at 17, so a parent never knows what the child will choose.

    Make kids the priority. I did this with homeschooling and in other ways. Will it be appreciated? Not in my case, at this time. But I did what I thought was the right thing to do. Every day we walked or hiked. My son could hike a small mountain at 3 years old.
    I taught my son swimming and then got him swimming lessons. We sledded on a nearby hill.
    I taught him cross country skiing and down hill skiing and he taught himself skiing and became a ski teacher. Then he taught himself snow boarding and became a snowboarding teaching. He became an Eagle Scout and won the group some awards that hadn’t been won before. We went mountain biking and road biking. I did an English curriculum 4 times and he achieved 780 on the SAT out of 800. I tried a math tutor but it didn’t work. Yet my son scored very high on SAT tests, even though he was in a home with a bad marriage and a step father that didn’t care for him. No, the father hated him. So I still long for the day when my son gives me a warm hug and says thank you for anything. Anything at all. He thinks he accomplished everything by himself.

    He’s at the top of his field in NYC and has been there for a while. He turns 40 this year. I am trying to write something about 40 years ago, when my life changed forever. But it always seems to make me cry. 40 years flies by.

    Readers, please listen to Gary. I totally agree with him.

    • Carmen Grullon June 20, 2018 at 10:48 am

      Oh wow! I could not help it but cried! Same feelings. I gave them my whole life, taught them the way to Christ, took all the abuse possible from the father, and I am just waiting for the day I hear a word of gratitude. May the Lord truly SAVE our children and give us peace.

      • Carmen,

        I feel for you because I did the same. We need to keep praying and keep our spirits up.
        The last 20 years were harder in some ways than the first 20. In the first 20 I had someone to care for and love and do things with. That’s all gone.

        April wrote: nice to have the back seat clean and at first I felt that way. That feeling quickly changed as the years went by.

        Kathryn wrote: those days were so hard and so magical. I totally agree! The magic wins us over to go on for another day. Then one day, it’s all gone.

        The grandkids bring a bit of it back but it’s so infrequent and the effect doesn’t last.

  8. What a great article and a great reminder. My youngest is going into high school this year. We have one out of the house and another one looking to move out in the next year or two.

    I love my kids more than life itself.

    But in all honesty, I’m looking forward to it being just my husband and I. When we got married, I already had a daughter. I’ve been a mom since I was 17 years old. We will only be in our mid-forties when my youngest turns 18 and goes to college.

    We are getting our weight and health in order now so that we have the energy to do what we want.

    I think what you are talking about differs from family to family.

    We are looking with great joy to the future of visiting our children with THEIR families….

    Thank you for this article. It made me glad my back seat is clean 😂👍🏼

    • Carmen Grullon June 20, 2018 at 10:53 am

      Sadly, that is the american view of family. By 18 we lose our children, we think we did it well, and life is going to be better once they leave…to wake up needing them so much…but they are gone, w/o true sense of what a family is. They never come back, just Thanksgiving or Christmas. How sad!!! Other cultures, Latino, Asian, Middleastern, european are SO close knit, so united. We just age and die alone. So sad!!!

      • Yes, America destroyed the family tradition.

        • To Mistydawn and to Carmen –
          Like you, I frequently long for the close knit ways of other cultures. But I am witnessing firsthand a generation of Christian young adults who are leaving families and comforts and taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. My own children, though I often miss them terribly, are ministering in places that range from a full day of driving to a full day of plane travel away. We rejoice in every moment the Lord allows us to be together. Truly, I would say that the heart of every believer should hold tightly only to the gospel of Christ, while enjoying every blessing He bestows.

  9. This is so beautiful and so true. Thank you!! I was sobbing just yesterday as I packed away childhood mementos of my 18yo son (2nd of 6 kids). Thank you for validating that I’m normal to secretly WISH that he was still that little boy who treasured our simple times and simple stuff and when our family did everything together. Those years were so hard, so totally magical.

  10. I didn’t even / ever have kids, but this blog made me a little weepy. As I approach my 60’s, I think about my mortality (less time living) and even though I know heaven will be so much more beautiful – it still makes me a little melancholy thinking about wonderful memories of my childhood. My young 20’s getting out in the world, the 30’s & mid-40’s when I feel I was excelling in my career, my 50’s, getting married for the first time and taking care of my elderly parents, and how everything has passed so quickly. It’s like Harry Chapin’s song – Cat’s in the Cradle, or the song by Five for Fighting … you wink, and it’s gone. Having appreciation of the here and now … the high’s have made the low’s worth it. Thanks for this poignant look at life.