My 2nd Grader has been eager to walk to school alone. Like many things he wants to do by himself, he’s ready, but not fully able. So in a compromise I get him to within squinting distance of the intersection where his school is, and he goes alone from there.
This morning I was waving at him from my spot, flapping my hands each time he turned to check if I was watching (it’s hard to say whether he wishes I’d leave or is glad I’m still there… probably both) when an older woman came out of her house and down the steps toward the sidewalk. I was going to explain what I was doing mugging and flailing there, but before I could she said, “Walking off to school on their own, are they?”
It was such a kindness, as most parenting gestures are ridiculous absent a kid. And I loved hearing her story about her own children walking to the school, and her work with others to get the stoplight put in for a safe crossing on the corner. Sweet.
Sweet, but also a bit of a cold wind blew through me. The 3 feet between me and this kind woman is the time it will take for 10 or 15 more seasons to blow by, my children to grow up and go out, and a whole other phase of my life to start. It seems inconceivable, but each year getting out the pumpkin supplies, the holiday lights, the spring wreath, Jay says, “How can it be [fill in the event] already, didn’t we just do this?” He’s not kidding, and I’m not kidding.
I read that after our brains peak (at 12, or 22, or whatever long ago age), from that point on they slow their work, gradually but relentlessly, taking in a slight bit less every microsecond. And as a result it’s like speeding up the film, events flashing by faster and faster. (I’ve also read that time is a big blanket and can wrap back on itself, like me and this woman staring across 25 years at each other, or the time I had a “visit” from my adult self when I was 11, and then experienced it from the other side in my 40s, but that’s for another day).
Being an old dad is quite something. There is the wisdom, and the stability and perspective and (relatively more) money. But at a time when many of my peers are having grandkids, Jay and I still have a foot in elementary school, even as we worry and care for our ailing dads. I’m still coping with the good fortune of my dreams coming true, and facing the hard truth that achieving something great does not fix everything, and dreams are hard work. But blink and I’ll be looking at it all through the rearview mirror.
I guess like always I’m aching to stay in the moment, and managing it only snippets at a time. I spent a great deal of time this year reading Karl Ove Knausgaard’s 3,600 page 6-volume autobiographical novel, and like Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, the genius of a long, long work of writing is that you can loop back and forth over time, bring long-ago memories freshly to the front, and connect events many years apart. I gasped several times as he brought a theme back to something that happened many hundred pages ago. It’s how my brain works, and it’s how Karl Ove writes. I think I’ve earned the right to call him Karl Ove, as well as I know him, though of course he does not know of me.
I think it will take a while to figure out my response to this reading project. Today I feel the fast rush of time, but hopefully there will be a few breaths more to keep figuring it out, before it all ends.