My oldest son turns 5 today. I’ve been feeling a little sad about that because, well, I’m not there. I’m in California this week for a project. I’ll be there for the party this weekend, and I bought the presents. But other people brought special snacks to pre-school today and had a little family party tonight.
There’s a certain narrative I’ve heard many times about people scaling down careers and such with parenthood because they don’t want to miss milestones. The first step is a big one — think that “Cat’s in the cradle” song about how his son “learned to walk while I was away.” But here’s the thing: I’ve watched two children learn to walk now, and am starting to watch a third. In every case, learning a new skill is a long process. There are a few false starts, something that could be a step, regression, something else that could be a step, and finally, after weeks of almost walking, actual walking. You could miss all of that, but you’d have to be gone for a really long time. And to be sure you see the true first step in all this, you’d have to glue yourself to your kid’s side. You couldn’t even go to the bathroom.
That’s why I think parenthood is less about discrete milestones and more about just being there. A lot. In the long run, the fact that I’ve eaten lunch with my son most days for the past year will probably matter more to our relationship than watching him open presents on one particular day. In 5 years, there have been many bedtime stories, many boo-boos kissed, many scurrying trips to a McDonald’s bathroom, and some moments of absolutely transcendent joy. A birthday might be one such moment. But so are others.
Have you missed any major milestones? How did you feel about that?