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The passage of time

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  July 1, 2013 07:29 AM

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There was a family party this weekend to celebrate my niece's return from Australia, along with the birthdays of her brother and parents, and I was really struck by how different everyone looked.

By different, I mean older.

I'm talking about everybody here--kids too. There were lots of relatives there, including children who I last thought of as babies who had suddenly grown tall and become really articulate and funny. But the grownups struck me the most, because, well, I'm one of them. If they are getting older, I am too.

And yet I feel the same.

Not exactly the same, of course. I know that time is passing--I feel it in my bones, and see it in the mirror. But even though I'm approaching my 50th birthday, inside me somewhere is that fantasy you have as a kid, that "growing up" happens to kids but not parents, that life goes quickly when you are young and slows down when you get older. It's not easy to face mortality, let alone the fact that I am headed toward becoming an old lady.

Last night, as I was reading in bed I heard my 7-year-old crying. I went in to the bedroom and sat on the bottom bunk. "What's wrong?" I asked him.

"Things are changing," said Liam. "I don't like it."

Liam has had a terrible time with leaving first grade. He adores his teacher, Mrs. Forrest. He loves his classmates. He is also a creature of routine, and ever since school ended, he's been off kilter. Right before bedtime, it hit him that the fact that his sister had sewing camp in the morning meant he wouldn't be able to play with her--yet another change in his routine. I think that (along with being tired from the aforementioned family party the night before) did him in.

"I want things to stay the same," he sobbed.

No, you don't, I told him. Because if everything stayed the same, nothing would happen. You wouldn't meet any new friends--or new teachers. If everything stayed the same last year, I pointed out, you'd never have met Mrs. Forrest--who will always be your friend. Change brings us new adventures. Change brought us you: you were our surprise baby. 

He nestled in to me, all warm and smelling of soap. Some things don't change, I told him. Daddy and I will always be your parents and always love you, forever. You have your family, and they will always love you too. 

I kissed him good night again and thought: I should listen to myself.

Because, really, I like the passage of time. It's exciting to watch my children grow from babies into toddlers into gangly children and then awkwardly and amazingly into adults. It's fascinating to see how situations and people turn out; it's the passage of time that ultimately works things through. Even though not everything works out the way I hoped, each day is a new chance to make things right, or at least better, and to try new things. And as much as I might complain about gray hairs or the effects of gravity, I am having a wonderful time.

As for being an old lady...once, when my grandmother was 85 and I was 25, she said that she would much rather be her age than mine. She was a tremendous woman, who had lived a very full life, including raising four children, traveling, writing and living through all sorts of joy and tragedy. It was good to be through the hard years, she told me. She liked being old.

I bet I'll like it too--and I have 35 years before I get to 85. All sorts of adventures can happen in 35 years. Bring it on.


A wonderful illustration of the passage of time: my oldest two in 1992--and 2012.

m-z 1992.jpg

m-z 2012.jpg

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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