Time is a relative concept. Want to see it fly by? Take a week off work. Want to see minutes feel like hours? Get a root canal.
Raising children is perhaps the one experience that can't be categorized. As I prepare to send my youngest son off to college this fall, I'm bewildered by the speed at which my sons' childhood years have passed. A blur of Halloween costumes, school assemblies and driving lessons, and then suddenly, both children have morphed into adulthood.
Along the way, however, there were singular days--oh, so many--which I thought would never EVER end.
Someone asked Son #2 last weekend if he was excited about college. He answered yes, of course, but I sensed the hesitation in his voice. Yes, he looks forward to the experience, yet I know he's reluctant to leave high school behind. Not surprising, because these four years, to date, have been the most rewarding adventure of his life.
He was one of the fortunate ones. Not all teenagers walk away from their school years with warm memories and a strong sense of self-confidence. I know many adults who still reflect upon those years with sadness or regret. High school can be tough territory for the bullied, the insecure, the nonconforming.
Junior high and grade school are often worse. While I remember a handful of high school classmates being ostracized and ridiculed, I recall hordes of kids from grade school being scorned. Somehow, I had the fortune to not be among them. And I'd like to think that I was kind to everyone, regardless of their popularity status. But that's probably my blurry, idealistic middle-aged mind at work.
At a grade school reunion several years ago, I struck up a conversation with an old classmate. She'd been tormented by the Bullying Boys and Mean Girls through much of our eight years together at St. Patrick's. The mistreatment couldn't be attributed to any particular reason and, as in most cases like hers, was not due to any identifiable wrongdoing on her part.
"I'm kind of surprised I'm here. I wasn't sure I could come," she said. "I wasn't sure I could forgive everyone."
But here she was. And successful, and attractive, and seemingly content.
Out of all the people I spoke to there--the Business Whizzes, the Wondermoms, the former Best Friends with whom I looked forward to reconnecting--she was the one I most admired when I left that night.
Those eight years of Grade School Hell hadn't succeeded in breaking her spirit. Somehow, she was resilient and self-confident enough that she endured and excelled through the rest of her life. And here once again, on our old grade school grounds, everyone finally accepted her as an equal. And maybe a step above that.
Because thankfully, life's realities and practicalities often change Bullying Boys and Mean Girls. Not all of them, but enough of them to put most of us on a level playing field as adults.
For the ridiculed grade school child, high school may open up promising opportunities. For the friendless high school student, college can mean a new world of young adults with similar interests and backgrounds--or those simply mature enough to embrace others who are different.
Those early school years, filled with anxiety and angst, likely crawled by painfully for the unpopular kids.
But the rest of their lives? I hope the rest is a blur, filled with snippets of happy memories of a loving family, supportive friends and former classmates, who finally see them and accept them for all the gifts they have to offer.
And the concept of time--though relative--is perhaps the greatest gift of all.