When I was growing up, extended families stayed local for the most part, and thus older relatives played a much more significant role in the lives of impressionable children than they do today. Generations of families tended to stay closer together geographically, since most available jobs were nearby. Back then nobody’s dad worked for a company that transferred people halfway across the country periodically, and no one I knew had a mom who wasn’t a fulltime homemaker.
Another thing that was understood during my childhood: children, particularly pre-teenage ones, were tacitly expected to be seen and not heard while they were in the company of adults. That meant that at family gatherings where older relatives were present, my siblings and I sat quietly at the table until such time as one of us could muster the nerve to politely break in with an “excuse me, please” so that we could retreat to an area where we could listen to (or perhaps even participate in) conversation involving something other than the good old days, crooked politicians, how fast time goes by, and each venerable aunt or uncle’s most recent trips to the doctor.
One particularly long afternoon after I had passively endured one too many harangues from some aging relative droning on about how all us young folks should appreciate every moment because of how quickly time goes by I silently promised myself two things. One was I’d never become one of those windy old geezers who’d bore the ears off any defenseless person within hearing distance with tales of how fast the years pass by. The other was to never become the tiresome old guy who has to tell everyone not fast enough to get away about his most recent visit(s) to the urologist, proctologist, and/or any of the other various and sundry ologists in their life. And for decades I’ve stayed true to those two vows. Until now.
My oldest child turns 21 this week. I don’t see how that’s possible. It seems like just yesterday I was holding him in the crook of my arm, stunned that human beings came in sizes that small. I clearly remember trying to rock him to sleep in my lap, although on many evenings there was at least a 50 percent chance that I’d nod off first.
I could swear I had the little guy up on my shoulders just last week, carrying him around the house while remembering to duck before every doorway so we wouldn’t have to find a pediatric concussion specialist.
Wasn’t it just a few months ago that I took him trick-or-treating in his little pumpkin outfit? And I clearly remember his first Easter egg hunt (when he exulted over finding virtually every hidden oval before his infant sister could) wasn’t all that long ago. I recall with absolute clarity him standing absolutely still in his green and yellow outfit as he portrayed a pint-sized Pele at the third grade wax museum, and throwing his first strike off a Little League mound … didn’t all that happen just last year?
But the fact is that the cute little boy whose nervous hand I knelt to hold when he entered a public playground for the first time is turning 21 this week. He’s now taller than I am, or at least he is when he decides to stand up straight.
The sobering reality is that I have become what I swore I never would: a misty-eyed, nostalgic windbag, and an aging and increasingly frail one at that.
Now would anyone like to hear about my latest trip to the dermatologist? <