As a parent of three boys, life can be a blur of joy, madness and a whirlwind of emotions. Our oldest son is now fifteen, and I can honestly say that it sees like it is a mixture of “it seems like yesterday he was born” and “I can’t even remember what life was like before children.” Duff MeKegan, the bass player for the band Guns N’ Roses made a statement about their rise to fame in the late 80’s, and it was remarkable how closely it related to the world of parenthood.
“There was this life that I had until twenty four,” he explained. “And then this all hit, and it’s like everything I have experienced from twenty four until now is a completely different life,” he pontificated.
I heard that quote before we had children, and even before I had met Elizabeth, and something about it stuck with me. It was becoming clear that even though our lives were a certain way and we were comfortable and secure in it, change is always around the corner and those changes lead to different lives that we know nothing about.
When Andrew was born in 2005, it was a very quick shift from what I had known to what I was about to learn. And like any grandparent will tell you- it moves fast. Even when there are many days where it feels like it’s moving so slow.
I remember distinctly the first time he wrapped his little hand around my finger. It was the most magical feeling, knowing that this little miracle that we created not only recognized who I was but held onto me intentionally. A little more than two years later, Nolan was born. Four years after that, Dylan entered our lives. I can’t begin to explain the flood of memories that wash through my brain as I think about this. I had to stop typing for a few minutes and look out in the distance because it feels so emotional.
For so many years, it felt like much wasn’t changing. We enjoyed life, did our adventures, had our struggles. But it felt steady. When Andrew’s voice started changing a few years ago, and he went from being this little guy to one who shot up in height to now be taller than his mother, the changes seemed to happen faster and faster. And it wasn’t just him- it was all three of them. Their independence was beginning to show. Instead of us reading them books, they were in their room before bed reading by themselves. Instead of holding our hands on a walk, they were running ahead having fun.
Change can be sneaky.
Often, it felt like a relief. Elizabeth and I could finally talk in peace without someone needing something. I could sit in silence without interruption. Often, it was glorious. Slowly, this newest life that we had known was shifting away. Change is necessary but it’s painful if we don’t enjoy it in the moment. It is stunning when it’s gone if you didn’t appreciate it when you had it.
Last week, I took Nolan and Dylan on an overnight adventure. We drove to a different state, got a hotel and enjoyed a few days of silliness. We watched a few movies at the hotel, went swimming, rented paddleboats, enjoyed some hikes and went out to eat too much. Dylan, who is nine, still has the cutest squeaky voice that amazingly hasn’t gone away yet. Part of me hopes it will stay forever. But I know that won’t happen. But you really don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. The problem is when we don’t appreciate it while we have it.
We were on one final walk before heading home and Nolan and Dylan were chasing each other in playful fun. All of a sudden, I felt his little hand grasp my index finger. It took me by complete surprise. I couldn’t remember the last time he- or any of our kids- held onto my finger like that. I don’t know how to describe exactly how I felt in that moment. Part of what I was feeling was reflection.
For fifteen years, I have had the pleasure of having a child of ours hold onto my finger essentially from birth and many years on. But the more anxious part of me felt something different. I was holding on mentally more than he was holding on physically. I took in all of it-where we were walking, how it felt being connected to him like that and a bevy of memories. But the main thought I had was that this might be the last time that he holds onto my finger.
Once he lets go, I thought, he might be too grown up to grab on again. If that was true, that life- like McKegan described- is over. And there is nothing like losing something to make us appreciate what it is in the first place.
Terry Bradshaw, the four time Super Bowl champion for the Pittsburgh Steelers, reflected on the end of their dynasty in the 1970’s. The Steelers were on the goal line, about to punch in the touchdown that would seal the Super Bowl victory over the Los Angeles Rams and become the first team to win four Super Bowls. But before he took the snap, he leaned back and looked around. He knew that this was most likely the end. And with that, he wanted to take it all in one last time in the middle of the glory. He looked back on that momentary reflection as something that he was so glad to have done.
For all of us entrepreneurial parents who are going through this- the ones charging hard towards our goals- Remember why you are doing this. Remember to appreciate the moments with our kids. Remember to take advantage of the freedom that we are building so that we take care of what really matters- our family. And instead of being sad when they let go of that finger that last time, or that championship doesn’t come again the following season, remember the wonderful Dr. Suess line.
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”