“It goes so fast,” the lady said to me, smiling with squinted eyes. She was every bit in her 70s, and she glanced at the boys as they grabbed at the candy near the checkout line. That was 19 years ago. Four kids under 6, I nodded back and couldn’t imagine a time when they would be adults. Later, others repeated those words to me. “Before you know it, they are in college!” And then that day arrived for our oldest, six years ago.
Next month our second son Tommy, graduates from KU. And with some authority I can declare, without equivocation, this fact: Not all of these times went by quickly. Some parts happened slowly. Painfully, dreadfully slowly.
Moments of parental pain like the Pack 3096 Pinewood Derby, for instance. Losing car races, over and over, which was then followed by tears, fits of anger and feelings of hopelessness. But enough of me. There were the restaurant outings where the booths doubled as a fort inviting toddlers to disappear. To the lady nearby pretending not to look, “They’re our nephews,” I deadpanned. Or the Sunday morning when the parish collection plate became a toddler tug of war and spilled across three pews. Campout disasters would make the list as well.
Even the college years seemed to slow to a halt at times. KU football comes to mind. For Tommy’s four years we were a season ticket holder. In that time the team in league play went 2-32. It would be unfair to compare those seasons it to the Titanic. People survived that disaster.
The one conference game Turner Gill won against Colorado was so humiliating to the Buffs that their athletic director fired their coach, Dan Hawkins, just after the team plane had landed. And then they ditched our conference. One game last fall against Oklahoma State the officials stopped play for over an hour due to rain. I was there. It was miserable. And then the rain started. A hundred years from now the sports historians will note that KU football in those years were an exercise in futility unparalleled since, well, never.
Other things went by slowly. Like the time on father’s weekend at KU when I stood in line at the Hawk with a hundred 18-year-olds ahead of me. I had lots of time to watch the door guy — some kid sporting a polo with topsiders — ignore the rest of us while he giggled with the 18-year-old blonde whose ID said she was a 25-year-old brunette.
Spring breaks were endless. The Christmas breaks were interminable. One started the first week of December and ended the last week in January. Wars are fought and won in less time. Unloading the car from the end of the school year took most of the summer. I think backpacks are still balled up in our garage. Jammed with textbooks whose buy-backs offers expired long ago.
Another time the clock stopped — trying to get in the fraternity front door during something called “summer chapter” — code for party time in July. The challenge was that we arrived just after everyone went to bed — 9 a.m. We pounded on the door for a couple minutes. When we got inside the bodies were strewn around like an episode from “Walking Dead.”
Not everything was glacial. Conversations went quickly. Smartphone data plan limits vanished. Gas tanks emptied. Debit charges cleared in seconds. Jimmy Johns became like family.
And on Sunday, May 19, Tommy will walk down the hill, in cap and gown. For his mom and dad at least, that is one day we hope to slow down.