At a certain point, Matt Sweetwood wanted his single parenting chores to just — be over. He is glad now that he never had that wish fulfilled.
This year my oldest daughter and her husband, who live in the midwest, have come to stay with me in New Jersey, to celebrate the New Year. It’s hard to believe that a whole year has passed since they were married last December in Israel. I recall sitting on the 10 hour flight reminiscing about what happened over the past 19 years of caring for her and her 4 siblings as a single and sole parent.
When kids get older, they go off to college, they get jobs, boyfriends and girlfriends and find their own busy lives. Getting everyone together for a family vacation, even for a wedding, is difficult and requires a lot of coordination. I felt a sense of accomplishment for all us to be traveling together again. My memories of our family trips are mostly filled with the amazing times we had together, how I used that time to teach them about the world and how we became close as a family; not only close to me as their only parent, but close to each other as brothers and sisters.
When I saw all five of them sitting together on the plane it occurred to me how quickly time had passed since they were little. I thought back to when I first became a single parent. They were only 18 months to 8 years old. Imagine five kids, all youngsters, fighting, screaming, cranky, demanding and completely dependent on me and me alone. I felt I had received a 20 year prison sentence and had no idea how I was going to care for them, get them through the teenage years and to independent adulthood. I wished for the next 20 years pass in an instant and have them all grown and out on their own. I am sure most parents have made a similar wish at least once.
I remember when my oldest daughter was 10 years old and we were travelling to Washington DC for my best friend’s wedding. She was still adversely affected by her mother’s leaving us but despite her own pain, she was instinctively watching over her little sisters and brothers like a mother hen. The thought occurred to me that sometime in the distant future, I would be going to her wedding, and someday she’d be doing the same mothering to children of her own. At that time, it seemed like an eternity away.
I often see parents struggling or frustrated with their children. On the flight to Tel Aviv, there was a woman sitting next to me on the plane with her 3 year old daughter, who wouldn’t sit still or eat. I told the mom what I have told other parents to do – “Enjoy and remember as many moments as you can, even the ones that are difficult. Time will pass very quickly and before you know it, you’ll be the one going to your daughter’s wedding.”
Today, I look back on those 19 years with joy and a sense of accomplishment. I watched my daughter go from Little Mermaid outfits, to Abercrombie outfits, to Urban Outfitters, to DKNY, to a Anthroplogie wedding dress. There are countless memories of good times, bad times, accomplishments and loving moments that happened in between.
I thank God for ignoring my wish to make the time go by in an instant. Instead, He etched it on my heart for eternity to play over, and over, again.