Invisible Milestones

This was the second year in a row that our kids didn’t trick-or-treat together. Up until last year, we’d had a tradition of trick-or-treating in the neighborhood just south of us, three long streets of single family homes, fully decorated, and abundantly supplied with candy. We’d meet up with my older son’s friends and their parents, and end with pizza and candy at one of our houses. But this year and last, my younger son wanted to trick-or-treat with his best friend, who lived just north of us. So my husband and I each took a kid and split up.

When we did this last year, it was kind of a last minute decision, like, okay let’s just do what works and we’ll meet up later, which we did. We trick-or-treated together until dark because the weather was good. This year, knowing we’d be going separate ways again, I made a conscious effort to at least photograph them in their costumes together. But we didn’t even try to meet up near the end; after a couple of hours, we just met up back home. We may not trick-or-treat together as a family again. Next year, my older son may not even need or want a chaperone. Soon they’ll decide they’re too old for costumes.

The days are long, but the years are short, the saying goes. It’s a truism usually meant for parents of babies and young children, to say, “yes, you’re suffering in the trenches now, but it all goes at warp speed and soon you’ll be crying as you drop them off at college, so try to enjoy every minute.” It can feel affirming or deeply annoying, depending on the circumstances. The implicit advice aside, the saying gets repeated because it captures the paradoxical experience of parenting – it’s both slow and fast, exhausting and joyful, mundane and miraculous. It’s difficult to be awake for it all.

And then one day, we find ourselves longing for what once felt mundane, repetitive, and slow. Do you remember the last time you read a favorite board book together? The last time they crawled into bed with you or called out after a bad dream? When did they stop holding your hand when crossing the street? When will they stop calling me “mommy”? The thing is, with these invisible milestones, you don’t see them coming. You don’t realize you’ve passed one until it’s behind you. Halloween felt like that to me. Even more than the obvious milestones of birthdays, first days of school, first recital, lost teeth, etc. these other markers of growth and change drive home the simultaneously too fast and too slow of life with kids. While we’re managing the daily schedule of homework, meals, practice, appointments, whoosh, another “last time” passes us by.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a good thing, of course, that these milestones happen. We want our children to grow and learn to and want to do things on their own. Change is the name of the game. On my commute home the other day, I listened to a podcast interview with philosophy professor Martin Hägglund, about his book, This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom. He argues that our mortality, the fact of our own finitude, forces us to prioritize and make choices about what’s important to us. It’s the very fragility of life that makes it precious and the anxieties about how best to spend our limited time on earth and the grief we feel at the loss of things are the necessary conditions for life’s meaning. Celebrations of birthdays and the like help us ritualize and organize time’s inexorable count down, to give us some sense of control, I suppose. But maybe it’s in the unremarked end of things where the real poignancy lies.

So, here’s to all those missed moments, slipping by us like a stealthy party guest while we’re refilling the punch bowl. Perhaps the nightly ritual of our children dragging their feet and resisting the march to bed is a little allegory of this thesis about time and meaning. Let us linger a bit longer in this moment before lights out, they are saying, because while you, dear mother, think we’re repeating the same routine day in and day out, we know this day will never come again.

5 thoughts on “Invisible Milestones

  1. Soo, this piece is so timely. We just had this discussion at home and how the growth from 5th to 6th grade is so extreme. Thank you for explaining exactly how I feel. I am hugging them more often and trying to be more mindful and present in each moment!

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  2. Thanks for reading, Stacey. This middle school transition is BIG! Yes, trying to soak it all in and not be impatient. Maybe one year we force them to trick-or-treat all together for old-time’s sake! XO

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  3. Soo this is so beautiful. We have been lucky in that, being older, we have some time for savoring. But 6 months ago, Lucy would fall asleep to my singing. Now she only wants books (which is its own good thing) and directly says “Daddy stop singing!” I love the end of your piece, especially, because Lucy has started to employ overt tactics to extend “downstairs”–since she’s only 2, they’re not very sophisticated, but I find them very touching for the reasons you suggest, that I can feel her intense appreciation of being awake and with us and experiencing, and afraid that sleep will mean that today is over….

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  4. Hey, is this AG? Thank you for reading! Oh, two – I miss two and also don’t miss it, but I love that you get to have all these moments with Lucy and that you have the chance to savor. My older son and I just started reading a book together again, with me reading it aloud and I’m loving it, and he seems to be enjoying it too. (It’s nice to get comments here, but I suppose discussions on FB could drive more readers to the piece. Who knows how those algorithms work! But really, you can comment wherever you like – so appreciate you reading!)

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