YoungFriendsJan 14, 2015

We would have no use for stories

Backyard streams would flow undammed

There would be no actors for an old man’s memories

And the prophet’s cry would go unheeded

If not for children.

While digging through old files last week, I found that ode to children I wrote when I was a childless 20-something teaching 4th graders in Ottumwa, Iowa.

Even then I recognized the importance of keeping kids in your life. It made me pause, as soon my wife and I will shove our youngest of four children out of the nest.

I am not one to dwell on meaningless milestones and mindless ceremony, but it is bittersweet to consider this will be the last high school graduation, the last stock show, the last time I’ll dig long hairs out of the drain.

Not that being a parent was always a Hallmark card. You can’t discount those sleepless nights rocking a crying baby, scraping crayon off the baseboards, and being elbow deep in foul-smelling liquids you swear you didn’t put in the other end.

More touching–and more sweetly painful–are the little special moments. No, you don’t recall the trips to theme parks; you remember the walks down to the creek to skip rocks. You don’t remember sitting in a blockbuster movie; you remember sticking their drawings on the fridge. You don’t remember watching the elephants at the circus; you remember discovering raccoon tracks in the mud.

As the young scout Russell in the movie “Up” said when feeling homesick about the simple things he did with his dad: That might sound boring, but I think the boring stuff is the stuff I remember the most.

Young parents, remember that.

I was well into midlife when I learned we were having another blessed event. I am ashamed to admit I had at first mixed feelings at the prospect of adding another deductible to our health plan. As I walked around with a bemused look on my face, an older volunteer at my office scolded me. Phil, she said, when you get to be my age, you will never wish you had had fewer children.

She was right, of course.

And even if you never had or no longer have a kid at home, you can still experience the joy of being around them. One of my dearest friends was 40 years my senior. I asked him why he had so many young friends. Because, he said, someday if you are lucky, all you’ll have is younger friends.

I am getting to the point in life where I see the wisdom in that. As my youngest gets set to leave the farm, I am blessed to keep making new young friends in the community, through music, sports, clubs, and just being involved. I don’t know why they tolerate hanging around a person with hair growing out of his ears, but I’m happy that they do.

Oh, and don’t cry for us being childless. I understand that my oldest daughter and her husband are working on a project that may keep us looking for animal tracks for years to come.