My youngest son, who is 11, decided he didn’t really want to go trick or treating this year. The costume he wanted was impossible to find, and I definitely don’t sew. So we came up with an alternative. We went to the store, bought a bunch of candy, made homemade popcorn with pretzels and chocolate drizzle, and threw a frozen pizza in the oven. We watched Halloween, which was his first scary movie ever and he loved it. It really was a perfect evening.
And I’ll admit, I prefer this new way. I didn’t have to venture out after dark, in the cold, (which I hate), trying desperately to avoid the young children darting into the street in front of cars. Then come home exhausted, and in a few weeks throw out the undesirable, uneaten candy. Now we have three quarters of a bowl full of the good stuff!
But it got me thinking. Last year may have been the last time I took my kids trick or treating. The last year of a tradition I’ve been carrying on for 17 years of my life. It struck me how we don’t always know when it’s going to be the last time. This applies to many areas of life. Sometimes it’s a dramatic end, such as death, divorce, job loss, etc., and the realization it’s the last time is shoved in our face.
Yet with parenting, the last times are often more subtle. We do something over and over for years on end, and then one day, it stops. We may not realize it at first. A few days or weeks go by, and we think, “Huh. My child hasn’t gotten out of bed for one more hug all week.” And then they never do. That time has passed. It becomes the past. And it’s bittersweet.
It’s wonderful to watch our kids grow up and learn independence. We know they can’t be little forever, and we don’t want them to not be able to function without us. We know they have to grow up to be capable adults who can navigate life and handle the struggles tossed their way.
Yet as we let go of them, we can’t help but wish we didn’t have to. It’s hard. We miss the innocence of their youth, how we can soothe them with cuddles and kisses, how they run to you when you’ve been apart because they can’t contain their enthusiasm at seeing you again, how every holiday is filled with childlike wonder and joy that makes all our hard work worthwhile.
It’s not like as they get older, they don’t still love us. They do. But it’s also subtler. The hugs are quicker. The snuggles eventually go away. “I love you” becomes less often. Their troubles aren’t so easily soothed, and they definitely don’t want cuddles and kisses. They no longer run to you, but casually walk up and get in the car with a “hey.” (This is also why I have cats. They will be there for me to snuggle after my children are gone.)
So parents of older or grown children are always telling those with young ones: cherish every moment. We say it because we know. We are on the other side, and understand how fast it really goes. Because you don’t always know when it will be the last time.