Einstein’s Theory of Relativity has no correlation to raising children. Kids age and change by the nanosecond while their parents gaze at their own image in the mirror and wonder when that 20-year-old suddenly turned gray. It is through our children that we gauge the passage of time, each milestone they reach bringing us to new landscapes at ever increasing speeds.
In the beginning, we watch them take their first step, then suddenly we’re watching from a distance as they cross the street without our hand at the end of theirs. Before long, they’re sleeping at other people’s houses and soon a summer comes with a date circled on a calendar marking the next time we’ll visit them. From the moment our children are born they’re leaving us.
Along the way they make some thought provoking pit stops. I am reminded of a day when we had just moved into our new home and the children were very young. It was pouring rain and I had to be at a destination an hour away on unfamiliar roads. As the kids piled into the car they were full of questions: Where are we going? How long will it take? Will we pass a Toys ‘R’ Us? I told them that before we began our trip, they could each askone question, the most important thing they wanted to know. Then they had to be as quiet as they could for the rest of the ride so I could concentrate on driving.
Son’s three-year-old voice piped up from the back seat with his most important question, “Got any gum?” I tossed some Trident over my shoulder and he snagged it midair, giggling. One down, one to go, I thought, awaiting Daughter’s question. Her six-year-old eyes met mine in the rear view mirror as she began to speak. “Why is it,” she asked, “that some people think we came from monkeys and some people say Adam and Eve?”
I held her gaze in the mirror for the longest time wondering where in the world this child came from. But a deal was a deal and Daughter deserved an answer. So as we sat in the driveway under a darkening rain, I delivered my best interpretation of man’s creation according to the Bible versus the theory of evolution. Darwin by the dashboard lights.
Conversations with Son would prove to be equally challenging. The first summer he went to sleepaway camp, one of our long-awaited pre-scheduled phone calls from him sounded like this:
“Hey, sweetie! How’s it going?”
“Great, Mom. This was the coolest week.”
“Oh, yeah? What happened?”
“We went to Great Adventure. And it didn’t even matter that I was in a wheelchair.”
“What?! Why were you in a wheelchair?”
“You can’t go to Great Adventure on crutches, Mom.”
“Excuse me? Why were you on crutches?”
“The camp doctor didn’t think the knee brace was helping anymore.”
In a flash, my old high school math classes suddenly made sense. The entire time we were sitting through algebra, we always wondered when in our lives we would ever need to use this ludicrous skill. Then we became parents and found ourselves in conversations like this and realized that we were dealing with an algebraic equation. We were once again desperately searching for the “x” that would solve the puzzle and make sense out of chaos.
“Hello? Why did you have to wear a knee brace?”
“It doesn’t matter. Did you know that they let you go right to the front of the line if you’re in a wheelchair? We went on the Viper twice. It was the best.”
Then again, just like on the math final, sometimes we never actually locate “x“. We just write it off to a multiple choice guess and move on. In school this is called trusting your instincts. In life, it’s known as parenting.