Time flies

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When empty-nesters tell you, “They’ll be gone before you know it”, there’s a natural tendency to nod politely while at the same time thinking, “We’ll be fine; plenty of time”. After all, time is a constant. Unstoppable, yes, but moving at a steady pace. We have so many days still ahead of us to appreciate our children.

But then days become months; months become years. And before you know it, you’re looking back with wistful regret wondering where all the time went.

Primary to secondary

I was reminded of this last week when I took Kara to an open evening at her prospective secondary school for next year. It seems like only a few months ago that we were getting used to having all three kids together at primary school. (Actually, it was six years.) And now here we are, touring secondary schools and hearing about their values and GCSE results. We’ve had at least one of our children at our local primary school since 2012. July 2023 will mark the end of an era: 11 years.

Kara, of course, is all over it. She watched, wide-eyed, as pupils demonstrated frog dissection and talked about studying gothic literature in Year 8. We left at the end of the evening with her declaring, “I want to start Year 7 now!”

She can’t wait. No time to look back, only forwards. She’s already plotting which of her friends she’s going to meet where so they can walk down to school together.

She thinks she’s ready now. In truth, she’s probably right.

Me? I’m simultaneously excited for the future but in no hurry to let go of the present, while a part of me clings stubbornly to memories of a past which is already fading rapidly.

Secondary to university

Last weekend, thousands of 18-year-olds headed off to university for the first time, including our neighbours’ daughter. It’s a significant step in any child’s life, but it’s also a big milestone in their parents’ lives. For many students, it’s a first genuine taste of long-term independence. For their parents, the moment marks a clean break at the end of years of dependence. Sure, their children will return during the holidays and may even live at home for a period after uni. However, the household dynamic will never be the same again.

In four years’ time, it’s likely Heather and I will be in a similar situation as we send Isaac off to university. Four years really isn’t far away: a single Olympic or World Cup cycle.

I’m not ready for that yet. Not even close.

Fast-forward a further four years, and both Toby and Kara may have also followed that same path.

I’m definitely not ready for that.

Enjoying the ride while I can

Of course, I can’t stop the inexorable passage of time. But I do wish it at least felt a little slower.

Change isn’t new. Even over the past year, a lot has changed in our house. All three kids are much more independent. Isaac travels to London on his own. Toby goes out on two-hour bike rides. Kara is desperate to gain a similar level of independence that we’re not quite ready to give her yet.

With the exception of film nights, gone are the days when all five of us would settle down to watch TV together. At weekends, the kids increasingly do their own thing: homework, playing games, meeting and talking to friends. I don’t miss the pressure to constantly keep entertaining and supervising the kids. But I do miss that sense of family togetherness. We still eat dinner together most evenings, but I fear that soon will pass too.

This evolution isn’t all bad. Of course it isn’t. I’ve started buying the Sunday paper again because now we actually have time to read it. For our recent 25th wedding anniversary, I treated us to a new Scrabble set because now we have the potential to play this together in the evenings. (I’m dead romantic, me.)

Freedom for the kids brings a corresponding freedom for us. We’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. The prospect helped sustain us through the sleepless nights and the toddler years. But now it’s here and not just a distant speck on the horizon, I’d give anything to freeze the moment, or even wind it back 12-24 months.

There are so many things I still want to do. I always thought I’d have plenty of time to do them. All of a sudden, it feels like I don’t. But there’s still time; just less than I thought and sooner than I bargained for.

Time flies. It’s a one-way trip without a return ticket. Like a rollercoaster, I need to enjoy the ride while it lasts because it will be over before I know it.