The Last Time
One morning last week we were running a little late, truthfully nothing more than out of the ordinary, we are almost always pressed for time in the morning. My youngest got out of his bath, put his monkey towel on his head, wrapped the ends of it around his body. I rubbed the hood around on his hair to dry it a bit. He ran into my bedroom, the towel flying behind him like a cape and danced naked in front of the mirror.
I grabbed his t-shirt and pulled it over his head. He held my shoulder to steady himself while I held his pants out for him. First one leg and then the other. Then he brushed my hands away, snapping and zipping his Levis by himself. I don’t recall the last time I dressed him. I don’t know when I will again.
Or if I will.
He is seven years old. He ties his own shoes now. Reads books that have chapters and no pictures. He has his own ideas about clothes, most of which revolve around wearing a pair of red converse hi-top sneakers. He calls everyone “Dude,” including me.
It is these things that slip away without notice. When is the last time you bathed your child, read them a book, carried them on your hip? Do you recall the last time they woke up during the night, or when it was your kisses stopped making the boo-boo better? When was the last time you could pull cheerios, pacifiers, or tiny errant baby socks out of your purse?
When did I stop singing twinkle twinkle little star at bedtime right before I closed the bedroom door?
Sometimes the realization of all I can no longer remember takes my breath away.
For a variety of reasons my 17 year old son decided not to try out for the baseball team at school this year. I didn’t really think much about it until one afternoon when I realized I will likely never watch him play baseball again. I had watched his last game and not even known it. And even worse? I can’t remember the last game of his I watched. For so many years it was such a huge part of our lives, now it is gone, other things filling the void so that the absence is barely noticeable.
The lasts are hard for me to deal with. Mostly because when they are happening we don’t know that they are the last. We have no reason to mark the occasion as special or set it aside as being different than any other day. We are just going on like it is a regular day. It is only in retrospect, in looking back, that the event has any importance. A couple weeks ago my youngest son climbed into bed with me in the middle of the night. It made me realize that he had not woken up in the middle of the night in a very, very long time. While I am grateful for that, I do love my sleep, it was a bittersweet realization.
My oldest son has only one more year left at home before he heads off to college. Already he spends a lot of his time away from the house. He has friends, a girlfriend, a job, and homework (hoo-boy I just made myself laugh) that all occupy his time and keep him busy. Our late night talks over snacks in the kitchen have become less frequent.
But last night was one of those nights, I savor them when they happen. Last night he was standing in the kitchen with his brother, fixing himself something to eat, and I was sitting at one of the stools listening to them talk about school, the two of them laughing. I grasp on to the stories they share now, like they are little treasures, probably giving them more importance than they really deserve. It strikes me how I am on the outside. I am admiring my oldest son, thinking about his beauty, strength, humor and, yes, flaws– all of it, everything that he has become and what I hope he will be as he stands on the very edge of being a man. He catches me looking at him.
“Why are you staring at me?” he asks.
“I just can’t believe it is almost over. That I only have one more year with you.”
“Uh, I am going to college, Mom. Not dying! And it is a year away. That is a long time!”
It has gone so fast. The memories go by in my mind like one of those flip books, slow at first but then gradually picking up speed.
“I know that. I am happy for you. This is such an exciting time in your life. Seventeen years is your whole life, for you it is forever. For me it seems little more than a week. Weren’t you just 7 on Wednesday?”
His brother jumps into the conversation, “You mean IF he goes to college. Don’t be missing him yet! With those grades he may living at home with you for a long time.”
We all laugh.
I listen to them toss love at each other, disguised as insults, the way siblings do.
I hope this isn’t one of those “last times”.
I will miss this.
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