Exactly one day and seven hours ago my son James was walking across the stage receiving his diploma from high school. It was a bittersweet moment for me, because on one hand I am so proud of him, but on the other hand it is a red letter day marking the end of his childhood which makes me really sad. I don’t have anymore little ones following behind him, he is my one and only, besides my six wonderful step children who all went before him. So, in this moment, I am taking some time to reflect on just what it means to lose our childhood.
I remember it like it was yesterday growing up in Puerto Rico on a military base where my father was stationed. It was one of those places that seemed magical to a child, filled with whimsical playgrounds, matinee movies, and with every holiday a reason to have a parade. I remember vividly the mango trees that lined the sidewalks and as we played and loss track of time, our hunger would be satiated simply by grabbing a big one of the tree and pigging out. I can’t imagine any better place to grow up, except for the 42 acres around my grandparents house where I did most of my growing.
I often daydreamed a lot when I was a kid and actually had a teacher write on one of my report cards, ‘daydreams a lot’. Isn’t that what being a child is all about? Gazing off into our imaginations, the ones God created, and soaring into another world of beautiful watercolor ponies or rainbow colored trees dripping with sugared tulips you could eat? Oh, how I miss those moments when being a child was our only concern, our ‘work’ per say, where we were free to simply be and play, create and build, dream and wonder about the world we live in and the worlds we wished we did.
I’m not sure why God created us to realize the beauty of childhood only when it has slipped through our fingers, it is a conversation I hope to have with him. Quite possibly he knew that if we understood just how precious childhood is, we may never have been willing to grow up, into adulthood, and honestly many of us haven’t, for the most part. (At least I hope I haven’t.)
Part of getting ready for James’s big day was creating a DVD slideshow of his journey to graduation. I pulled the bags of pictures I had sorted and labeled last summer and painstakingly began pulling out the pics I thought would fit him best. It was a beautiful reminder of how precious his life has been to me, and how precious he is as my son. From the moment he came into this world we took pictures. Gazing into his beautiful face we saw how much potential he had and began praying that his life would be blessed. Throughout his early years there were those pictures of him with wild hair, messy faces, chubby cheeks, and those oh so candid shots of his wild spirit refusing to mold to the status quo. It is those pictures I love the most, the ones that captured his true self through the lens. These pictures took me back to moments I had long forgotten. Ones that were truly what life was meant to be like, surrounded by family and friends, but most of all love.
And in that I realize just what childhood was supposed to be to all of us, a time for unconditional love. God places children in our lives to be treasured, to be enjoyed, and most of all to be loved. I fear that so many of us hurry through the pace of our lives with so much stress that we miss the very moments God places in our paths to be enjoyed. I can’t tell you what I would give to turn back the clock and be able to hold my son in my lap and read him another bed time story of Curious George, or let him take his shoes off and play in the mud despite being in clothes that would stain. Those moments for me are gone, like chasing the coattails of priceless memories, but never really catching up to them. And although I keep a childlike spirit within me, as does James, I can never get those precious moments back can I? So what to do with this realization? Tell those of you who still have children in your lives to stop what you are doing, pick your child up and find some reason to laugh with them, play with them, get the play-doh out or by all means, PAINT with them or turn Facebook off and go blow bubbles with them. Actively LOVE them so they will never spend a moment doubting if they were loved or not. But most of all, hug them and tell them how much you love them. Never underestimate the power of a hug and the words “I Love You” in your child’s life. You simply will never get those moments back and the more of them you can build with your children, the more of them you will have to look back on and know they were loved, that you did your job well with them.
I believe God has a special place in his heart for children. Those times I feel closest to him I picture myself as a child in his lap, not as an adult, and there is great comfort in that. James is now on his way into adulthood and I am proud of the young man he has become. He will always be my squirt, my sweet little fellow who loved to pinch my cheeks and make the Chubbis laugh and I will always see him as that. But as he grows into adulthood I pray he takes with him the wonder and imagination he had as a child, the one God created in him, because it is in that, that makes our adult lives worth living, and allows us to once again, find our childhood. And in finding our childhood, it just might help some of us find a pathway to be closer to God.