I once heard it said that people seldom recognize the last time certain things happen in life.
When I was a little girl, for instance, my father used to put me on his back and "hop" me up the stairs to bed each night. I have no idea when the last time was that happened. There was no grand finale, no recognizing that the tradition had run its course...it just somehow faded away. Getting "hopped" to bed simply went the way of watching Sesame Street and reading Nancy Drew, and other things I don't do anymore.
As children, we seldom recognize the significance of this parade of endings, change and growth—for that is the real process these passings represent –but as I get older, my senses have sharpened, and I’m keenly aware of the fragility of the things we cherish in life. This is particularly true as I watch as my own children slowly shed the vestiges of their respective childhoods.
My son has this amazing giggle. When something really cracks him up, he succumbs to peals of high pitched giggles that take the wind right out of him. I had no idea, a week or so ago, that it would be the last time I’d hear him laugh in quite the same way.
For all the friends and relatives who may be reading, let me assure you that the little chap is fine—thoroughly happy and more normal than even I was able to recognize, as the following vignette will illustrate:
“What’s wrong with your voice?” I asked, Monday afternoon when he got into the car after school.
“My voice?” he answered, in strained and fractured tones.
“Yes, your voice. When did you get laryngitis?”
“What’s that?” he squeaked and rumbled.
“It’s when you lose your voice,” I explained, patiently. “Can’t you hear yourself?”
He seemed mystified. I dismissed the incident, chalking his altered tones up to damp conditions on a church campout last weekend.
Later that evening, he greeted the girls who come to our home for a couple hours each week to discuss their concerns about life, study the Bible, and eat brownies….roughly in that order. My son typically emerges when rattling in the kitchen cabinets alerts him that he’d better get his share of chocolate before the girls descend upon the pan.
“Little Brandon’s a man!” they all shrieked, seconds into conversation with him.
“What!?” I screamed, in horror.
The girls first regarded me with the same mystified stance my son had demonstrated earlier, before patiently explaining the facts of life. Evidently, twelve year old boys commonly develop cases of “laryngitis,” persisting for weeks or months, after which their voices adopt the deep inflections of manliness.
My son knew what was happening all along. He just didn’t want to be the one to break the news.
Of course, it shouldn’t have been news. I knew all this, intellectually. I just somehow forgot that my son was so close to losing his little boy giggle, that each time he laughed I needed to pay attention, and listen with the reverence with which one regards the fleeting and temporal.
This was the first October that we didn’t spend inordinate amounts of time constructing elaborate Halloween costumes. Halloween has always involved costumes that invariably required tools, trips to Home Depot, yards of fabric and the occasional altering of laundry baskets or other household wares. The kids would begin planning the next year’s costume around 9 PM October 31st, right after we revived them from their sugar comas. I used to impose an October 15 deadline for reporting final changes in costume choices, to allow time to sew, alter or construct the components necessary to transform them into miniature literary figures, superheros or machinery, such as the year my daughter became a life-sized, candy-dispensing vending machine and was subsequently mugged and toppled by a rabid gang of preschoolers.
Tonight was eerily normal. Not that the children were disinterested in Halloween —we hosted a costume party last Friday, and bought a lot of candy and watched a scary film—-but it was different. Ghosts of Halloween past haunted my thoughts.
Of course, life changes aren’t limited to the growth of children. Embedded in each moment are wonderful, amazing things we all take for granted. I try to recognize them as I go through my day: the smell of wood each morning as I walk into the sunroom my husband built for me, the way the sun intensifies the colors in my stained glass windows at certain times of the day, the sound of my Labradors barking too loudly and frequently in protection of me when I’m home alone.
My son still giggles. It just sounds a little different, and from now on, it always will. Our family still gathered around the TV with a big bowl of candy and watched It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. These moments, too, are special, and likewise, destined to become spectres of memory, in time joining the ranks of all that used to be and isn't anymore.
Recognize your moments as they parade past. Salute them. Acknowledge their significance, for each one represents a page of a story that with a plot that moves all to quickly…and that story is your own.