Parenting: Lifetime Love and The myth of “18 Summers”
Have you heard the myth of “18 summers?”
It’s the amount of time you’ll hear some parents talk about in relation to raising their kids; as in “We’ve only got 18 summers with them before they’re off on their own”
I don’t buy it. At the ripe old age of 42 I still turn to my parents.
I’ve traveled with them as an adult. I’ve called them for advice. I’ve cried with them and laughed with them and intend to continue to do so as long as I can. I expect no less from my own kids.
The problem with the 18 summers scenario is that it’s false on all levels.
In some ways you don’t even have that long.
You could work yourself into a frenzy thinking about the time you’ve already lost.
Those early summers when you were so sleep-deprived the seasons melted together.
The summers where you were waiting until they were old enough to remember before you took the trips you were dreaming of. Or the ones that went by in such a blur, that you got to the end and realized you never did do that chalk drawing with them that you’d promised at the beginning. (Next summer! I promise!)
Then there are the summers when you felt like you had just got the hang of the whole parenting thing. It’s right about the same time they’ll decide that they’d rather not be parented and that their pals may just know better than the old folks at home.
If we measure our time with our children in summers the truth is harsh. 18? Not a chance. You’ll get 12 if you’re lucky.
The good news: You don’t have to measure your time that way. You don’t have to limit yourself to summers.
Measure your time together in moments and suddenly there’s a lifetime of possibilities.
At our core, we know this already (although we tend to forget). It’s why you paid attention to the firsts (tooth, giggle, word…). We let it go as they got older but I don’t think we should. Those “firsts” continue long after we stop marking them in baby books.
At our house they are coming in fast and furious these days.
First BFFs. First guitar performance. First run for office. First time I beat them in Mario Kart. (In Your Face!!)
If the firsts are the peaks, the moments I’ve always loved are the constants, aka the plateaus. And I’m learning to mark those too.
The way they still reach for my hand for no apparent reason.
The way they burst through the door full of stories to tell after school.
The way they are completely at ease with their aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins. Mashing their bodies into them with unabashed adoration and unmasked love at every greeting.
The time we spend together in those moments before bed when routine operations like brushing teeth or reading books offer a chance for me to look at them (while they’re not noticing me do it) and measure in my heart the way they’ve grown taller, or lost the baby lisp. Those universal parenting moments that allow me to marvel at how the ball of warmth I used to tuck into my neck is now as tall as my armpit and walking upright.
I’m not fearfully counting down the 18 summers but I am capturing those moments as best I can. The ones that have passed and the ones I’m expecting to come. I’m expressing gratitude for the memories and I’m greedily hoping to have as many more as I can squeeze into this lifetime.
I want more – more gap-toothed grins and sleeping four in a bed and late night snuggles and days that linger – for as long as I can.
I’ll hold on to these moments, and even the ones to come that may hurt when they get here. The ones where they’ll eventually push me away in search of creating and cementing their own lives.
What I expect will get me through those parenting moments is the knowledge that even as my children pull away, just like my own parents have done for my siblings and myself, my fingers will linger outstretched in the distance waiting to be grasped in any moment that they decide they need it. I’m betting that, if you think about it, you feel the same way.