Last night, my husband Jimmy and I were talking about how fast time, at least as it pertains to our children, has flown.
Our 14-year-old daughter, Maggie, is planning her first Halloween trick-or-treating adventure away from home and out with friends. She spent her first Halloween dressed as a pumpkin when she was less than a month old, too small to even hold her head up by herself. The next year, she was an angel, and we pulled her around in a little red wagon to gather treats.
Our younger child, Robert, who is 12, arrived 22 months after Maggie. He too was a pumpkin on his first Halloween, but did not follow with the angel wings. He will have several friends joining him for trick-or-treating in our suburban Atlanta neighborhood.
Our first few years as parents are a bit of a blur. Those of you who have, or have had, babies and toddlers, you know how hands-on they can be. Toddlers cannot be left alone, at least not for long, because they will get into trouble. It's a lot of physical work when children are young: dressing, undressing, changing diapers, feeding, cleaning up, taking for a walk, strapping into a car seat, bathing, putting to bed.
I soon learned that. When they went down for a nap, I too had to lie down and rest or I would not make it through the day. Bedtimes were early and dinner earlier still. When they were young, it seemed to me as if they would always be with us. Our lives were structured around naps, meal times, bed and bath. It was all absorbing and all engrossing.
They are both now in middle school, independent and focused on friends. Friends influence everything from their choice of costumes to their activities. The focus is not physical, but mental and emotional: how to deal with problems and resolve issues.
Last night, the realization that we have only four more years before Maggie goes to college, and that Robert will be out of the house in half the time he has already spent in it made me realize: Time really does fly.
The big transitions mark the passage: Moving from a few days a week in school to five days a week; moving from preschool to elementary school to middle school to high school. We are in the elementary school phase, where the focus is family, friends, school, and activities. Afternoons are busy with homework, activities, and connecting with friends.
This phase is fun and interesting. The children have their own personalities and interests. They are interactive and inquisitive. Jimmy and I focus on helping them navigate their paths and learn from their mistakes, rather than doing things for them. Bedtimes are later, homework heavier, and friends a constant.
This shifting of interaction, as well as our realization about how limited the time is that we have left, has led me to pause and reflect. Naturally, I'm a Type A personality. I focus on getting things done as quickly as possible and moving on to the next items. Activity and doing, rather than stillness and being. Impatient, most often with myself, but also with others. Nothing has ever happened as fast as I desired, and much of my life has been spent feeling as though I was perennially behind.
Possibly in doing, I have missed a bit of being.
The time that we have with our children at home, that once appeared infinite, now has a horizon that appears not very far away — one that I can see in my mind. The shorter timeline has made me reassess, should I be more patient, with myself and others, be more and do less? Or possibly shift to doing something else — less children, more adults?
On Thursday night, I plan to give myself a treat. Since my children will be trick-or-treating with their friends, I will take Halloween night as a time for the reflection I need.
Jackie Gingrich Cushman is the co-author, along with her father, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, of the book "5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours." Read more reports from Jackie Gingrich Cushman — Click Here Now.