Looking ahead, what path do I envision for my life? Where am I on that journey, where I am trying to go, and what steps do I need to take to get there? I look at calendars, project time frames, and invariably find myself doing what I call “The Parent’s Tally of Years,” as in: ten years from now the oldest will be in college; how old will I be then? What will my days look like then?
Usually I dream about the freedom these coming years will bring and plan what I’ll do with it.
In the midst of these year-end musings our neighborhood ice skating rink opened, and in great excitement we dug the skates out of the attic for our first skate of the year.
I was as excited as the kids. Growing up my family were skaters and I have many happy memories of winter days spent skimming across sparkling ice. When we were older, I once went on an ice-skating trip with my sister Agnes to Ottawa, before either of us were married, to skate the Rideau Canal. It’s four and a half miles long, so to the end and back again makes for a nine-mile skate. Along the way are outdoor fires to warm your hands and food vendors to re-victual as you go. After nine miles of skating the legs are sore, but the heart is happy. It was really fun.
When I started skating with my own kids, it was very different. Still fun, but of a different kind, with lots of hunching over to hold little hands and help them wobble around the ice, and lots of stooping to pick up little ones when they take a spill. By the end of a skating session it was my back that was sore instead of my legs, but the heart was still happy.
Now that my kids are getting older, in my mind’s eye I saw myself once again dashing unencumbered around the ice with my scarf whipping in the wind.
Then when we got there, my five-year old asked, “Dad, will you teach me to skate?”
What!?! How could it be he didn’t know already?
But of course, just because I’d taught the older two in prior years didn’t mean that the younger ones had learned. It’s a bit of a pitfall in the “Parent’s Tally of Years.” I often make the unconscious mistake of thinking I’ve “done that,” whether it’s skating or bike riding or sharing treasured family tales, because I did it with the older kids. In my mind that box has been checked. But of course it hasn’t yet for the younger kids. And somehow when doing the “Parent’s Tally of Years” I always count the years from my oldest child when speculating about what life will look like ten years hence, when really I need to be taking the youngest into consideration.
All of which I had time to contemplate on the ice as I once again made a slow, stooped circuit around the rink holding the little hands of a young child still finding his wobbly way on skates.
It was a reminder that when it comes to making plans as a parent, to assessing the years past and the years ahead, I’m not planning for “I” and “me” anymore. I need to be planning for “us” and “we.” As a parent, my life isn’t about “me” anymore (and it never really was, I just didn’t realize it before enrolling in the school of parenthood). My plans and my life are now, and forevermore, connected and bound up with the plans and lives of my spouse and children. And not just my wife and kids, but also my own parents, my siblings, my siblings’ spouses and children, and a whole network of people who are part of my life and whose life I am a part of.
So as I look backward and forward, I need to think not just about myself, but about my kids and their journey. What challenges do they face? Where are they on their own paths? Where do they need to get to, what steps do they need to take? What can I do to help them on their way in the coming year?
My little skater scooted around the ice smiling proudly, then suddenly arms flailed and he was down. I picked him up and gave him some encouraging words as I set him back on his skates. Then I straightened my sore back and stretched. Just then my two older kids went whizzing by with a smile and a wave. I thought: That’s what it’s about, that’s the goal, and this is a new year to help all my kids, as well as my wife and myself, along the way of our own journeys. And I realized that these are the moments that make for a rich and joyful life.
Copyright 2020 Jake Frost