Seven Winters Left: Children and Impermanence

It’s going to be a rough morning.

My heart is heavy because holiday break is over, and it’s freezing outside, and getting back into the routine of work and school is so hard, and I barely get up in time to blow my morning workout before I need to push my son out the door at seven to drive him to school–because he doesn’t get a school bus, because our district has frustrating rules–and he’s grumpy because I did not let him stay up to watch the Vikings beat the Packers, which he was so excited about (what kind of Dad am I?), and I feel bad about that, but he literally can’t operate without a good night of sleep, and now he can’t find his gloves and he’s still over-tired (was he secretly watching the game on his school issued iPad), so now I’m angry (it’s like the tenth pair of gloves he’s lost), and he’s dawdling again, not brushing his teeth like I asked, and I have two more kids to pick up in the carpool, and we get into one of our morning arguments because he wants to skip breakfast and watch the game highlights on Youtube, and I’m worried the car won’t start, and, of course, the drop-off line at his school is going to be insane, and I forgot the car is iced over, and now my chest is aching because I’m sad and angry and annoyed all at the same time.

Winter break was great. Why does this regular-life stuff suck so much?

With the little I know about myself and life, I pause and take a moment to reflect on the impermanence of it all. I breathe and notice the feelings inside me. As Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, I welcome the sadness and the anger and the annoyance, and I hold them like small children in my arms and in my heart. I offer these raw feelings my compassion, knowing they will not last, these feelings, too, will pass. New happinesses will arrive, new joys and new ups, and new lows and new frustrations, and this is the wonder of a wonderful life.

And then I remember a great thing I learned from the blog Wait But Why, about the passing of time, the smallness of our lives, impermanence, and I realize with shocking clarity that I only have seven left. Seven! My oldest son is eleven. He already has big college plans. This means that, though I hope to live a long time, I only have seven more winters left with this kid.

With only seven winters left, do I really care if he loses a few pairs of gloves, or a thousand? With only seven winters left, do I really care if we’re a few minutes late on a cold winter morning? With seven winters left, shouldn’t I enjoy the precious time we have in the traffic jam of his drop-off line, huddled in our parkas, reviewing the stats from last night’s game (which, as a non-sports dad with a sports son, I often roll my eyes at)? With only seven winters left with him, how much of that time do I want to spend forgiving, loving, letting-go, and showing compassion, versus complaining, yelling, lecturing, and demanding?

Now I feel really bad. I have the “bad dad” blues: that feeling you have when you review a previous situation–like yelling over a lost pair of gloves or sending a kid to bed when rival teams are tied–and you want to go back and kick yourself and say, hey, dude, you only have seven winters left with this kid. Don’t be an jerk.

Instead of dwelling, I remember the Buddhist concept of the second arrow. If you’re hit by an arrow, it hurts. But a second arrow in the same spot, hurts even more. The first arrow is life, our mistakes and other’s. The second arrow is our reaction, our criticism, our anger, and our self-judgement over the situation. Life will be hard, we will screw up, but we can add a lot of extra pain to a situation with our added reaction. All parents mess up. We can know and accept this without adding too many more arrows to a wound.

We are told not to dwell in the past or live in the future. But maybe, at least with our priceless children, by quantifying the short span of our time with them, we can hold each raw moment a little more carefully, a little more lovingly. If I only have seven winters left with my son, and perhaps only two potential chances to have a snowball fight each winter, I may only have fourteen chances left to have a snowball fight with my son. Really? Only fourteen snowball fights left!

Seven more winters. How many more forts will there be? How many more football matches in the front yard? How many more times to sled together down a hill?

A season is a blink of an eye. Seven winters left with my beautiful son, and I’m going to treasure them. 

So the morning goes better than I thought it would.

Though I don’t regret making him go to bed. Sometimes watching the highlights the next day, and being a little late to school, can be fun, too.

Happy New Year from Tall Trees Grow Deep.

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