Independence Day Is Just Around the Corner

Originally set aside as a holiday to remember those who served and sacrificed in the armed forces of the United States, Memorial Day has expanded in the minds of many to include anyone and everyone who has passed on. A quick trip to any local cemetery will serve to confirm that fresh flowers have been placed not only at the graves of former soldiers, but also to honor other departed loved ones.

I mention all this simply to point out the obvious truth that Memorial Day weekend is very often a somewhat-nostalgic experience for many. Visiting a family member’s gravesite can’t help but stir up the past. What is remarkable about these graveside recollections is how often our memories of the departed center not on the normal, day-to-day routines that made up the bulk of anyone’s life, but instead on the ways in which the deceased was odd, funny, or in some way uniquely differentiated from most other people.

As just one example, I can still remember what my father looked like as he paid the bills at his desk in our kitchen, but I am far more likely to speak at length to the many hilarious stories that have as their centerpiece his outrageously-thick Hungarian accent, inability to keep his hair under control or confusion over how most other American men his age managed to dress and care for themselves.

Are those men in the backyard really just installing fence
posts, as they claim? Perhaps they are secretly digging a
tunnel to the bank across the street? High up on a building,
The Dark Knight silently watches for signs of trouble.

Several weeks ago, my wife and I were out to dinner with a much-younger couple. Because we had a child together later in life, we both have kids that are approximately the same age, and I made a casual remark about how us old folks were “getting to do the whole thing all over again.” At this, the other woman asked us whether or not there was any difference this time around, i.e. what did we notice that was better, worse or just plain different about raising a child in our 40s and 50s versus “Round One” when we were in our 20’s and 30s.

My gut reaction to her question was to say that raising children goes far faster than you ever imagine it will, especially when you’re right in the thick of it, and that this time around, I’m trying to enjoy simple moments more. Since that dinner, I’ve taken more time to reflect on that question, but I think my answer remains the same.

Consider watching how older people interact with young children. Relieved of their responsibilities and command of young children, grandparents not only have the freedom but also the perspective to understand how fleeting life truly is. The wide-eyed young boy spouting all manner of nonsense at their knee will, beyond doubt, grow in stature and strength, one day transferring much of his desire to interact with them to friends, team mates and (most notably) the opposite sex.

When I played out in the back yard with my first child, constructing elaborate dioramas of action figures, forts and other imaginary scenarios, I was still in my 30s and it felt like those days would last forever. As I spent time with my daughter answering the thousands and thousands of questions that flowed from her heart and enthusiasm, my mind was very often elsewhere, doubtless ruminating on the many circumstances and personal failings that had led to the destruction of my marriage to her mother. In those days, there was a lot of “serious business” to pay attention to, and to my deep regret many of her wide-eyed questions were answered perfunctorily, half-minded, not with a great deal of care or even accuracy. After all, there would “always be another day,” and surely I would do a better job engaging with her once I cleared a few of the big-ticket items from my life.

Today, I find myself in the unique position of having one kid off in college and living hundreds of miles away, and another one that just graduated…from Kindergarten. I hear little from the older child, but God in His great mercy has softened that blow considerably by giving me another wide-eyed child who can barely wait to begin pouring out his heart and soul to me when I come home after work. I’d like to report that the training brought on by time, loss, change and heart renewal has completely transformed me such that I never make the mistake of prioritizing the wrong things, but of course that is not the case. Still, I am happy to report a greatly increased willingness to abandon whatever seems most important to those things that I know will vanish sooner than I’d like them to.

But the lesson has not been easy to take to heart. Even in my somewhat-unique position, the temptation arises every so often to look at our young son and rearrange priorities based on the idea that “there’s plenty of time left” for building model cars, pretending to be Batman and discussing the strengths and weaknesses of different episodes of “SpongeBob SquarePants.” But I know that’s simply not true. Time is short.

Especially for parents of young children, then, I guess my answer to the “What’s different?” question is that “Independence Day” – the day when a child moves out of your home – should more closely inform your celebration of “Memorial Day” – the days God has given you right now, those days in which your child will ask odd, repeated and often annoying questions, among other such interruptions. Make your memories now, while you can; the opportunity to do so will vanish far sooner than you think it will.

Slow down; that important project for work will get done. Put some breathing room into your frenetic schedule. Don’t be in a hurry to “iron out the wrinkles,” the odd-but-harmless ways in which your child is unique or clearly differentiated from other kids. Time and peer pressure will very likely take care of much of that. Meantime, revel in the oddities and unique ways that God has knit your child together. To do this, you’ll probably need to set aside more time just to interact with your child. Try swearing off “multi-tasking” for at least three or four times in your week. Car rides during which you refuse to interact with your cell phone can be a rich gold mine, if we will only just allow ourselves to enter in.

And praise God with a glad and sincere heart for any remaining child who exhibits any desire to interact with you. Remind yourself that this may not always be the case. Let the wistfulness of Memorial Day inform those fleeting years leading up to Independence Day.

Psalm 103:15-19 (ESV)
As for man, his days are like grass;
   he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
   and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
    and his righteousness to children’s children,
to those who keep his covenant
    and remember to do his commandments.
The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
    and his kingdom rules over all.

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