By: Maralee McKee
Both my boys went back to school today.
I’m surrounded by too much quiet. It was wonderful for a few hours, but now the quiet is closing in on me. I want to hear the back door open and shut eight times in fifteen minutes. I long for someone to tell me he’s hungry even though we just finished eating less than an hour ago. About now, I’ll even hug the first person who says “I’m bored!”
I joke that my favorite day of the year is the one in which I first drive through the school’s morning drop-off lane.
In actuality, I dread it because it checks off another year in my mental Time Together logbook.
Corbett, my six-year-old, with his lunch box (the Mommy-I-gotta-have-this-cool-blue-camouflage one!) in his hand, began first grade.
Questioning my perception of time, I asked my husband: “Wasn’t he born just six months ago? It hasn’t been six years. Has it?”
Marc, our oldest, hair combed just so, whispered, being careful not to be overheard, “I love you, Mom!” and asked to walk alone into his sixth-grade homeroom.
Just six more first days of school and Marc will leave for college. Eleven more and it will be his little brother’s turn.
Then it will be over.
I’m reminded of a conversation I had at a dinner that Kent, my husband, hosted for his clients.
The guest speaker, a doctor, was a member of the World Council of 500. Chosen as one of the 500 greatest minds of our time, our guest consults for kings and presidents on grand and serious issues.
Knowing I was going to be sitting next to the speaker throughout dinner, I was flustered in the days prior, trying to think of what I would say, and fearing I would bore him and embarrass myself.
My fears were not unfounded!
Before our first course had been served, he matter-of-factly asked, “Maralee, help me understand some of the economic and libertarian concessions you believe your guests are willing to make in light of our current financial and political surroundings.”
“Huh? You’ve got to be kidding!” I thought to myself.
Wouldn’t you know it, that topic somehow slipped by me when I made my short list of conversation starters.
My mind rushed and then went blank.
I had nothing to say to our esteemed guest until I was able to bring the conversation around to family.
He beamed that his wife was about to give birth to their first child. It’s true what they say about children changing everything, we agreed, but “only for a little while,” he added.
“Why only for a while?” I asked, intrigued.
What he said next showed me a portion of his genius and forever shaped in great part the mindfulness I give to how I interact with my children.
“Well, if I live to be 85 and my daughter lives with my wife and me only until she leaves for college at 18, we’ll live together for just 21% of my life. For 79% of it, we’ll be without daily interactions with her.”
The pointed fact of the numbers pricked my heart; it still does.
“I have my children for only 21% of my life.”
Even those days, of course, aren’t guaranteed. But, barring a catastrophe, the good doctor is probably right about the 21%.
And if we think about it, it’s what most of us as parents dream of for our children. Start school. Graduate high school. Go to college. Find a fulfilling and rewarding job. Get married. Begin a family of their own. 21%, as hard as it is on us, is probably best for them.
Since that revelation, in the times when I’m angry about finding superhero action figures and school uniforms stuffed under my boys’ beds, I hear the doctor’s words.
When I can’t bear the thought of explaining one more time why we do homework before watching SpongeBob, I hear the doctor’s words.
When my children complain about my dinner menu and I have to remind them I’m not a short-order cook, I hear the good doctor’s words.
For 79% of my life I won’t have the joy of waking up and going to sleep under the same roof as my sons. With my perception adjusted, I take a deep breath, smile, and say: “What do you want to do today after school? I think we should celebrate your coming home!”
Hugs and blessings and Kleenex all around for those of us counting down our 21%,
PS: You can read more about my evening with the esteemed doctor and find out how to make the best use of your 21% (or less) of the time left with your child, tween, or teen in my book Manners That Matter for Moms. Behind every child who grows into a great adult is a great mom! This is a guidebook for becoming that mom!!! Read it and discover for yourself why it was awarded the Mom’s Choice Gold Award for Excellence in Parenting Books.