There’s no news here: It goes fast. The kids are growing up, and each year seems to be faster than the last. I think most of us feel that way. But lately, I’ve been more aware of time flying by than ever before. Maybe it’s my oldest heading off to college 2 months ago–or her younger sister starting her own college search this fall–or my youngest starting middle school. Or maybe it’s my own march into my late 40s?
A couple of weeks ago, my high school junior’s school had a spirit day for the Orioles’ playoff run. She is not big on fan gear, so when she could not come up with anything orange & black, I had the answer: in 1995, 3 months before we first had a baby in the house, I went to the game at Camden Yards where Cal Ripken tied Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games streak at 2,130. I bought a t-shirt that says, “I WAS THERE!” and decided not to wear it, but to save it for the right time down the road. It was time: I dug it out of our keepsake collection, and Ms. 11th Grade was all set for school.
Cal Ripken Streak Game T-shirt
A former student–a rabid O’s fan, now in her early 30s and a Facebook friend–saw my post about this and commented: “I believe you told me when I wore mine to school the next day, ‘I’m saving it for my kids.’ So, nicely done.” A warm shared memory, but how in the world has it been 19 years since that game? And how is my student already a teacher and a mom of two toddlers?
Then a college friend’s birthday showed up on Facebook earlier this week, and he made a comment that had not occurred to me: His kids are closer to 30 than he is. I realized this is true for my 2 older kids, as well. 30 is that far away?! I remember teaching The Great Gatsby when I turned 30 myself, along with Nick Carraway, and the charge of sharing his feeling that “I’m 30. I’m 5 years too old to lie to myself and call it honor.” And now my girls are closer to that than I am.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not depressed. I’m not sad. But I am in awe of how much we’ve done and how quickly the time has passed. And if I can’t put the breaks on time passing, at least I’ll always have this: I WAS THERE.
Our kids are 18, 15, and 11. Almost every year we spend a week at the beach, and most years my sister-in-law’s family is also there, including my two nieces—now 14 and 16. And for the last 18 years, there has been this green, vinyl drawstring bag from Benetton right there with us, a holdover from my wife’s days as a trendy teen in the ‘80s. The bag holds the toys: Shovels. Buckets. Rakes. Sand molds. Boats.
Though the contents have evolved over the years as new toys were added, as some disappeared into the surf or under the sand, and as others wore out and were thrown away, the Benetton bag has been a constant. But there’s one problem: Although no one has ever accused me of being a neat freak, sand that finds its way anywhere but actually on the beach is my proverbial kryptonite—an odd confession from a 30+ year volleyball player, I know. Perhaps I need help—or perhaps the sand just needs to stay where it belongs.
So for years I have more or less hated that Benetton bag. At the end of each day, someone has to carry the awkward bag full of toys that you can never get completely clean as you come off of a beach. Then there’s always the decision: Take the bag back to the room or leave it in the back of the van? Either way, sand is going to wind up somewhere it has no business being. If it gets on the floor of the condo, it will then find its way all over the unit. If it gets on the floor of the van, traces will still be showing up months later when I am looking for the ice scraper. It’s the Kobayashi Maru of beach vacations.
On the beach, it has been years since our now-18 year old has had any interest in playing in the sand. Castles and canals are all in her past. And this year, for the first time, our 15 year old and her two cousins spent all week playing in the waves and hanging out under the umbrella with books without ever touching the sand toys . Our son is now the only one. He once again spent hours each day on complex sand engineering and construction, drawing his grandfather, his parents, and temporary friends made on the beach into his projects whenever he could. I commented that if everyone worked as hard at their jobs as that boy works in the sand, we would do anything.
So on our last day at the beach, I wound up carrying the accursed green back to the van, trying not to get sand on my driving-home clothes. But on the way across the parking lot I wondered how many more summers the boy will use them. And I realized: I’m going to miss that green bag.
The Green Bag of Sand Toys