Last week, my family went camping and to the beach. We soaked up the sun, rolled in the sand, let the surf foam over our feet. The skies were blue, the sand white, and the air clean and crisp and clear. I woke up in our tent on Sunday morning to the sound of the ocean coming over the dunes, and as I walked down the boardwalk near our campsite, I had one of those moments in which I thought: This is perfect. I wish this could last forever.
Perfection is hard to find, and the instinct, if you are ever privileged enough to glimpse it for a moment, is to grab on and hold it forever. What could be better than to live in that state of happiness, where we are all enjoying just being together, where we have no other obligations — no phones to answer, no meetings to attend, no shopping to take care of — and can simply be?
Especially when just around the corner big changes are lurking.
For us, last weekend was all about intense relaxation because we knew that we needed to take our oldest son to school for the first time ever at 7:30 on Monday morning. And school, while exciting and necessary and important, and (in some ways) freeing, also signals that our family is growing up, getting bigger and more independent. Someday our children won’t need us to tell them their shirt is too wrinkly to wear to school, and even if we did they would be old enough to choose to wear it anyway. One day, they’ll be too old to hold hands across the street, too old for hugs outside the classroom door, too old for bedtime snuggles. And then, before we know what’s happening, our hands and our arms and our nest will be empty.
Yes, these changes feel like the beginning of the end. And it’s a little bit hard to take as a mom. But it helps that this transition takes place at the changing of seasons, at the same time I’m hearing whisperings of “sweater weather” and “pumpkin pie spice” and “leaf-peeping.” I’m starting to see red and yellow and orange in the trees and to feel a bit of crispness in the air and I’m relieved to see these signs. After the hot and humid summer and the days spent sweating as I schlepp my kids from place to place, I am eager to embrace shorter days and warmer clothes. I’m ready for the change because I know that with change comes new opportunities, new things to learn, new perspectives. Each season of the year has its own kind of beauty, its own reasons to be anticipated and celebrated.
The change in season provides a means for measuring progress, and how we can tell that we are growing and improving. And so while it is tempting to want to hold onto those summer beach moments forever, to live in them, to freeze time and to know that my children will always be the bright and beautiful little people that they are right now, I am grateful that time marches on anyway. As good as things are now, they will get better, but only if we are willing to change. Perfection is not sitting on the beach, watching the clouds go by. It is a pursuit of something that is just beyond the horizon, something that we occasionally get glimpses of as we move toward it.
I’ve heard it said that hell is a state of suspense – of being stuck in time or space, unable to move or progress. So while waking up to the sound of the surf and the bluest of skies sounds like heaven, I’m glad we are entering a different season of our lives. I haven’t been in this season – the school season – yet, but I’m sure I’ll be grateful to see my child learning, to watch him make new friends and develop new skills. I’m sure it won’t always be easy – there will be hurt feelings and gray days, bitter cold and lonely times – but we’ll get through those and through each season that comes our way.