Have you ever had a moment when time stops? I like to think of these moments as a combination of déjà vu and stark premonition of what’s to come. This happened one night last week. My husband was getting our five-year-old son ready for bed. They were on the couch reading a book when his computer on the coffee table dings, alerting him of an email. He looks up at it and sees an email with pictures from a recent trip. He opens them up and starts showing William, explaining that one of his friends from college took the pictures. Then he says, “You know Todd and Rick—I met them in college, too. I made some of my best friends in college. You will, too. You’re going to love going to college,” Jay says innocently.
William looks up suddenly and instead of smiling, his face is twisted with worry. His dad just giggles and then tells William to brush his teeth. On the way to the bathroom William asks:
“Am I going to college?”
“You bet!” answers his dad.
William is quiet and then when climbing into his loft bed says sadly, “I don’t want to go to college.”
Jay replies, “Sure you do! They’ll be some of the best years of your life.”
“How long do I have to go?” William’s eyes are now full of tears.
“Four years, maybe longer if you want a master’s,” replies Jay, who I realize from my vantage point in the den, doesn’t quite grasp how William will interpret that information. Most five-year-olds, I’ve learned, can’t quite understand the concept of time. I start to walk to his room to help, but before I could reach it, hear:
“I’m not going to go!! I want to stay here with you and Mommy!!!!”
Jay begins to laugh at first and then when I arrive at William’s door, we see tears streaming down our son’s face.
“Hey, hey, it’s not for a long time. You’re not going now,” his dad explains.
“Well, lets see, you’re five, so in about twelve or thirteen years you’ll go to college.”
“I don’t want to go! You can’t make me! I want to live here with Youuuuu!” The last word comes out between sobs.
My husband seems utterly confused. I try to help.
“Honey, that’s not thirteen days—it’s a long, long time,” I say.
“How many days then.”
“Okay, there are 365 days in a year, multiplied by twelve years, that’s what?” I look to my husband, and we both shrug wishing we had a calculator.
“Over a thousand million?” asks William, brushing a tear from his face.
“Yes, something like that,” I reply.
He then reaches up and hugs me tight.
It occurred to me then, that this is the moment I need to cherish. I need to bottle it up in techno color and pull it out twelve or thirteen years from now to console myself. Surely, when William is seventeen and getting out of the car on the college campus of his choosing, I can’t expect this kind of emotion from him. The tables will likely be turned. I will be the one with tears streaming down my face. I will be the one trying to talk between sobs. He, as most teenagers are likely to do, will act like his mom is crazy and give me a brief hug before walking away.
William pulls back from our hug, gives me a kiss and says, “I’m staying right here with you!”
And I give him another kiss and say, “Yes you are.”
As I turn out the light I think, for now.