Ollie turned six last week.
If I’m honest, I don’t have many memories from the past six years outside of the blur of him transforming quickly from a wriggling little worm into the bright, moody weirdo he is today. Somewhere in there he learned to crawl and then to walk and then to talk, his brother Nolan was born, we moved from Los Angeles to Portland, he started preschool and learned to read and write and do math. He became obsessed with bowling, then calendars and clocks, then “trick shots”. I spent too much time trying to make it through the day. I spent too much time working. I was there with him, I witnessed it, but it happened so fast and I was always also somewhere else–worried about money and my business and my health and our future.
Time dilation when raising children is directly proportional to their age. The past few years made me feel like I was on that ocean planet from Interstellar—kids are the black hole and I’m just trying to make it through this without losing two decades instantaneously.
Occasionally Ollie and I will sit in together in his bed at night practicing math on an iPad and I’ll look over at him and marvel at how far he has come, all the while realizing he’s almost half-way done with childhood. This makes me incredibly sad. Looking into the faces of my children is a visceral reminder that this precious, irreplaceable time we have with them is ticking away.
There are moments, late at night when I can’t sleep, when I wonder if any of this is even real. I lie there awake, picturing my kids’ faces and hearing their voices, wondering if I’ve imagined this all from some distant place on the verge of death, remembering a time long-gone just before the lights go out forever. The way Ollie looked when he was born, the smell of his face and his hands. The water rolling down his face the first time we bathed him, the blood rolling down his face the night he needed stitches. The first time he read a whole sentence on his own, proud and excited, while we looked on in amazement. The day he lost his first tooth and I held it in my hand, this tiny speck of bone with the weight of a planet on my heart.
And there are moments when anger and frustration get the best of you and you forget how amazing and lucky you all are. You yell at a kid who keeps getting out of bed because you still need to do the dishes and it’s already late. You argue with both of them when they stubbornly refuse to clean up the basement after they destroyed it playing goofy super-hero games. The realities of daily life override the desperate desire to cherish this time and leave you with regret. But on a whole you strive to give them the very best childhood you can because their memories of it will last much longer than the experience itself.
We exist only in those memories, Stacey and I. This time, here, our lives–this is the past for future Ollie and Nolan. They’re out there somewhere, 70 years from now, remembering some of these moments and that’s how we’ll live on, as a piece of their collective past. Sometimes that paralyzes me with sadness and sometimes it elevates the smallest moments. I look into Ollie’s eyes after he blows out the candles on his sixth birthday cake and for a moment I’m reaching into the far future and looking into the eyes of my grown son.
I was putting Ollie to bed a few nights ago when he started to cry. I prepared for the standard I-don’t-want-to-go-to-bed-I-want-to-play complaint, but he told me something I wasn’t expecting: “I’m sad because there will never be another November 18th, 2018.”
Jesus, kid, you’re only six, you’re not supposed to weep for the irreversible passage of time yet.
I consoled him as best I could, explaining that, yes, there will never be another 11/18/18, but we’d have another November 18th in a year. That we do as much as we can each day to learn and have fun. That tomorrow will be a new day. “Yes,” he said, sniffing, “But today will never happen again. And that makes me feel really sad.”
You and me both, kid.
Garrett is the Founder & Creative Director of Karbon, an iOS design and development agency located in Portland, Oregon. His current interests include mechanical keyboards, video games, technology and photography.