He was just over two when we took the fun vacation to Greek ruins, waterfalls, and the sea. In the newness of our discoveries and the delight of our first trip as a little family of three, I snapped photo after photo of my cute blond-haired boy, always standing out amidst our Middle Eastern surroundings. I was a young mom with a Canon film SLR, determined to document the details. The only snag in my plan was that my son could not smile on demand.
I suppose this is why I remember, in vivid detail, the place where he first smiled for me. I can picture the orange t-shirt with dinosaurs and navy blue mesh sports shorts. His shoes were knock-off black Teva sandals. I asked him to sit on the edge of a pond where he was fascinated by the fish, and when I said smile, he obliged me, finally figuring out how to command his cheeks.
This summer we will return to some of those exotic spots for the first time and now my son is 18.
In those days, along with all the photos, I kept a small journal of things he said. His first word: nok, the combined English and Turkish words for no (no and yok), his funny complaints, his attempts at humor, all jotted down in a little book to protect the memory.
Recently, we conducted a family organizing party and asked each kid to consolidate their keepsakes into the antique trunk brought back from the Middle East just for them. My son had the most stuff, partially because he is the oldest, but largely because he is the most sentimental. We found more evidence of funny words: contracts he wrote for us to sign regarding the temperature at which he would no longer wear shorts to school or his plan for saving for his first flip phone.
He has been saying words worth remembering for 18 years.
The trip back to the ruins this summer is the last we will take as a family of 5 all living under the same roof. I am keenly aware that the moments I have to document the details and record his funny comments are numbered. Such as the other night, when after hearing me talk about the President of MOPS he asked, in all sincerity, now which country is that?
The fact is, my enjoyment of him has grown as much as he has and I feel like I’m saying goodbye to a very good friend.
I suppose this is the next stage of parenting, when we become more like peers and I don’t have to see the mound of clothes, trash that’s not in the trash can, or evidence of energy drinks he is so bad at hiding. And with this transition, I am guessing my role in his life changes too.
Last week, we rushed out of the house for a school concert and he grabbed a container of dinner and poured milk into a water bottle, commenting that milk tastes better in a bottle. Perhaps it is the sentimental mood I’m in, or possibly that I say a lot of things without thinking, because I replied, “Now all you need is a nipple.” I was picturing a baby bottle! He was not!
Without pause, he grabbed his phone and opened the Notes app, writing down what I said. Quoting me in his “journal” to remember! Then he snap chatted it. (Then he relentlessly teased me!
The moment ended, but it had already captured the cruelty of time. It passes, slow and quiet. Pixels have replaced film and the Cloud has replaced tattered journals. Jeans with rips and shoes with holes, replaced year after year as bodies lengthen, lengthen, lengthen. And suddenly, a role reversal that foreshadows a future I’m not ready to consider: My child is the one capturing the moments and I am the one saying things worth remembering.
In the absence of experience on how to navigate this next season with my son, I yield to the wisdom of Thomas Merton: “You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”
I choose to embrace future days with a view toward the unfolding moments of delight and discovery, full of smiles, which he can now produce on demand.
Beth Bruno is founder and director of A Face to Reframe, a non-profit committed to preventing human trafficking through arts, training, and community building. She writes about women in ministry, girls becoming women, and exploited women. Her writing has appeared at Relevant, Today’s Christian Woman, InterVarsity’s The Well, and she is a proud member of Redbud Writer’s Guild. She can be found in the mountains of Colorado with her husband and 3 kids or at www.bethbruno.org.