The Eyes Have It

The reality of the situation struck me three weeks ago. That was when the first of several graduation party announcements arrived. I had opened our refrigerator door for some milk and when I closed it came face to face with Tony’s smiling image.

“What’s this?” I asked my wife.

“Tony’s graduation party announcement. It came today.”

“Jeez…he’s a senior already?”

“Did you just figure that out?”

The truth is I was well aware of Tony being a senior as he is on the same high school baseball team as my oldest son. We’ve come to know and care about him and all the members of our baseball “family” over the years. When you spend as much time together at spring and summer ballgames as we all do you know these things.

So I know that Tony, Dan, Tom, Tyler, etc. are all seniors. That’s not what hit me upside the head like a wild fastball. It was the knowledge that if they were seniors then just a year from now my oldest child’s face will be gracing the refrigerators of friends and family just as Tony’s is gracing ours.

Over the next few weeks over a dozen more announcements would find themselves on our fridge. And with each new arrival came another grey hair to my temples. The names and faces have raced before my eyes this week. Not this year’s seniors mind you, but next year’s group. Our baseball family is a big one, and those that immediately came to mind were all the boys that played little league ball with Nolan on the team I began to coach when he was nine until he was fourteen and made his high school baseball team. There we were introduced to at least a dozen more of his class, members of our family who will graduate next spring.

2006 and 2012

2006 and 2012

There’s his classmates from kindergarten through eighth grade: thirty-one smiling faces who all went on to various high schools across our city and joined much larger class groups.

Of course this is not all a bad thing. After his eighteen years under our roof is over he will hopefully have gleaned enough from us to successfully function on his own in the world. He has the grades (while writing this post I received an e-mail informing me that he was just named as an Academic All-Stater for baseball) and qualities colleges look for in scholarships and such, but is instead leaning seriously towards joining the Marine Corps a little over a year from now. I admire him for this and respect his decision. He desires to be the best of the best. Yet that in itself will bring me more grey hairs in the coming years. But it’s his dream, and for as long as he can remember his parents encouraged him to pursue his dreams.

It’s not a bad thing because his little brother can’t wait to get his room. When we moved into our house ten years ago this month Nolan was seven and were several months pregnant with Jonah. The boys shared an upstairs bedroom for a few years until I remodeled our basement and added a bedroom. Our oldest moved downstairs, and Jonah has had to share his bedroom with his little sister who arrived three years after he joined us.

Nolan is ready to move on.

Jonah is ready to move downstairs.

Sophie is ready to decorate her room per her unique tastes.

Mom and dad are ready to cut their food budget significantly.

But not just yet.

The other night my daughter climbed onto my lap and asked me to turn on the tv. I turned it to a show she’s watched the last few years, Team Umizoomi, thinking she’d enjoy it.

Da-a-a-a-a-d. Not this. This is a little kids show.”

“But you like this show. And you are a little kid.”

“No I’m not. I’m a big girl. Can’t I watch a big kid’s show?”

I hugged her close and said “Not yet, Soph…not yet. Let’s watch this one together for awhile.”

After she went to bed that night I stopped in our bathroom to look in the mirror. Each day I look at the man looking back at me. He looks familiar, still has all of his hair, but it’s frostier than before, with lines around his eyes. I close my eyes and can still see the man I know. A man much trimmer, and with a bounce in his step.  For while the man I see in the mirror today still has dreams, the younger version had them too. When my eyes are closed I see the man who is clueless about what his future holds. Anything seems possible and he’s excited and energetic.

I close my eyes and I see each of my children as infants, wrapped in onesies and blankets and snug and warm in my arms. I’m reading each of them the same book: “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.” I cried each time I read it until finally, one by one, they asked me to stop reading it. Because they had become “big kids”. And probably because I embarrassed them.

I close my eyes and I see their mother, my wife, looking young  and radiant as she rocks each of them or dresses them for their first day of school. Funny thing about my bride of almost twenty years: she looks just as vibrant today when my eyes are open.

With eyes closed I can see snapshots in each child’s life. I won’t bore you with them here.

eyesI open my eyes and gaze intently at the eyes looking back. In them I am able to see more than what was present in the younger version of myself. I see memories. I see hints of wisdom. I see hard work and much laughter. I see the pain and sorrow that comes from losing a child to miscarriage, along with the reflection of the tiny, lifeless body held in my hand. I see dreams of the future and dreams realized. I see the gratitude I expressed to God as I offered each of my children back to Him since they are His to begin with. I’m merely the steward, a modern-day Joseph. I see love.

The younger man had more dreams. The older man has more blessings.

Dreams do come true.

*****

2012 Father’s Day photo credit: Laura Kortum Photography

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3 thoughts on “The Eyes Have It

  1. Jeff, this was beyond beautiful. You write very, very well. I remember well the day I graduated from high school. I wondered why my parents cried. I’m not a parent yet, but, ten years later, I can understand better much of what you describe. It is beautiful the way you are raising your family, encouraging your children to pursue their dreams. There is always nostalgia for the way things were, but there is beauty in the passing of time, too. I’m glad you see that.

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    • The thing I’ve learned the most over the years is that there is no instruction manual and that parents make mistakes. I’ve learned that wisdom is better than knowledge. And I’ve learned that I will never stop learning. And I don’t want to stop. Life is simply too beautiful when looked at as a comprehensive and cohesive whole. Sure, it has it’s very dark spots and if we dwell only on the negative we miss the vast richness and diversity just as we do if we are all Pollyannas and only look at the good. But when life is taken in as a whole? That’s where wonder is born, and where beauty and wisdom reside.

      Thank you for the very kind words Jessica.

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  2. Jeff, we always told you that you were our first, so, since we didn’t know what we were doing, there may be surprises along the way. We didn’t realize since every child is their own person, a parent starts over with every one. As a whole, I think things turned out alright. And your family will too. Stay away from mirrors. I just feel so old when I look into one.

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