The ways we mark milestones are many. Every time one of my children has a birthday I write them a letter. This started when Caroline turned one, it was my first full day without her, and though I had been single parenting for longer than a year at that point, it was heartbreaking to me in a way that is hard to articulate. Writing her a letter that she was too young to read, or even understand was my way of staying connected, of giving her the love I needed to give her on that first anniversary of her birth. That letter was more a reflection of the growth that I had experienced as a mother of two very small children than it was on her growth, though it did take note of her personality and fascinations at the time. Every year since then the birthday letters have acknowledged only the growth that I see in my children. They are the reflection of what’s happened internally and externally for my child that year. These letters are a way to recognize their growing gifts to the world, often times the challenges they have faced that year, and my reflections on where they are contributing to our family and the world.
As I wrote to Sam this morning, on the eve of his birthday, it occurred to me the speed with which his life is passing. That speed is felt in many ways these days, but most notably in the physical and emotional changes I see in him. It’s cerrtainly the things you would think of in the last of his tween years: I can’t keep him in shoes, his feet keep bursting forth, he is nearly as tall as I am, and soon to pass me, and his flirtations with independence sometimes are not only out of current bounds, but hilariously entertaining (after we’re done talking through what SHOULD have happened). Those are the things you expect from a turning-twelve year old. What I haven’t expected are the moments where I learn how to love from him (again), where I see grace through him, and where I learn to dream in new ways from him. I haven’t expected the years to accelerate so quickly, though the cliche should have taught me so many years ago that this would be my reality.
I bumped into a mom friend I hadn’t seen in a while the other day. I’d lost track of how old her children were, but knew one was off at college. I asked after her emptying nest, and her immediate reply was “it’s all over after they start middle school…and by sophomore year of high school all they can think about is the work related to getting into college.” I can feel that reality, and while I know I won’t be able to help it from being true for each of my children, what I can do is mark the time intentionally. One of those ways is in birthday letters.
That moment Sam was born, I looked in his eyes, still cloudy from their first exposure to light, and I knew a love more pure than any I had known before. Sam is the one who taught me first that we truly are all born lovable, we bring many gifts into the world, and with them some challenges too. As parents, our role is to create a space to allow our children to grow those gifts as large as possible, and whatever challenges there are, to find ways to gift our way around them— to create a life where we live in harmony with many others. Sam will continue to accelerate his trajectory. I will continue to take time to mark it. For me, it is like taking in those deep yogic breaths, feeling the expansion of my heart as this one who taught me what it truly was to love unconditionally makes his way into the bigger world.
I will mark it in birthday letters and nightly reflections, I will mark it in milestones of physical and emotional growth, and I will do my best to treasure the moments of challenge as deeply as those of joy and pride. This is the great balance of life, and of loving. How do you mark time and milestones with the ones you love?