Those of you who know my oldest son Andrew will not be surprised by this at all. He lives his life on the edge of adventure. He looks for opportunities to try unusual experiences and he makes sure as many family members as possible are participants.
This past week was no exception. Andrew found a place online to purchase a liquid nitrogen flask. He had it shipped from overseas and then found a place locally that would fill it. He proceeded to gather all of us in the dining room for an experience we won’t forget. He poured the liquid nitrogen into a Styrofoam cooler and the fun began. We had prepared a variety of food items to freeze, including marshmallows, gummy bears, Oreos, blueberries, strawberries, and watermelon. He certainly had the kids’ attention! Then came the best part. ICE CREAM! If you make a homemade ice cream recipe and pour it into squeeze bottles and then give them to Andrew and Randy, in a flash you have homemade Dippin’ Dots! They were a little lumpy, not perfect spheres like the real thing but the kids didn’t seem to care. It was a fun treat and an experience I never expected to have. Somebody else thought it was pretty sweet too!
I think anyone who has been a parent has shared the feeling of excitement that comes when your child does a “first.” By that I mean, the first time you watch your child gain a victory over some skill or do something by themselves. We applaud wildly when our little ones take their first steps or say their first words. When they are older, it’s other things that bring that joy, like reading by themselves or riding a two-wheeler for the first time. We all spend those childhood years cheering our children on from one accomplishment to the next.
But there is a different perspective that I wish I was more conscious of and that’s the “lasts.” So many times we have no warning that something will be done for the last time and we wish we’d known so we could take a moment and savor the experience one last time. Things would take on a different meaning if you knew that it would be the last time. I remember how many years I was awakened in the night to nurse a baby and how I would sometimes wish that season would end. But if I had known which time would be the last time, I think I would have taken a moment to acknowledge the experience as one that often brought a sense of peace and a pause that sort of said “all is right with the world.” There was just something about that middle of the night experience that I now look back on and treasure. As that time passed I told myself with some relief, that the little fellow was finally sleeping through the night. But after experiencing it with seven babies, I wish I’d known which time would really be the last, because now I know that I would have looked at it differently.
Most times we are just living life, focusing on what comes next and we aren’t at all conscious of the passing of time. We probably miss a lot of lasts and never even notice. But last night I had an experience that reminded me that the lasts are important and I would do well to notice them. My youngest son has been involved in a program called Royal Rangers. It’s similar to Boy Scouts but since it is part of the Assemblies of God Church program, it has a strong Biblical focus. Last night Alex’s group had their Council of Achievement where they are presented with the merit badges they have earned during the previous quarter. Alex had worked very hard for several months and earned several merits as well as an impressive number of rank advancements. I was so proud of him and at the same time, I became painfully aware that he was the last of the boys to have this opportunity and indeed, he was quickly moving forward and would move on to a new season as the others had. He is really looking forward to moving on to youth group and likely won’t be in Royal Rangers next year so he only has one more quarter to work on badges and stand proudly before the audience to receive his awards.
You might say that focusing on the “lasts” just brings sadness and you are right, it does, but it also brings an opportunity to stop and savor moments that you would otherwise totally miss because of the pace of life. We move through life so fast that we are sort of on automatic-pilot, switching to the next season without thinking about what was gained in the previous one. We do have certain times where we have learned to take notice like school graduations and marriage, when we recognize that our children will be forever changed, never to return to their former lives. When those things happen we greet them with feelings that are bittersweet. We wouldn’t take those moments away from our children, but at the same time we grieve a little for what is passing. But this is what parenting is, isn’t it? A holding on and letting go, over and over.
I would like to suggest that there are many more subtle moments in life when our children are ready to move on to a new season and if we were aware, we would have some wonderful moments where we experience joy in the passing. Yes, it will be bittersweet and some tears are likely to be shed, but they will be tears of joy as we see what has been done in that child’s life to get him to this new season. Firsts are great, but lasts are necessary stepping stones and are perhaps worth the pause required to acknowledge them.
Of course it’s easier to notice the lasts for the youngest child because there are no more to follow but the lasts in the lives of the older ones are worth acknowledging too. I am praying that God will help me slow down and take more notice of the lasts that I may be thankful for each one and appreciate more what comes next.