I’ve written before that one of my favorite movies is The Family Man. There are a dozen great scenes and quotes from that movie, but one of them is when Don Cheadle (who’s an angel in a sports car) zooms into Nicholas Cage’s life and gives him “a glimpse” of what that life would have been like if he’d married his college sweetheart instead of becoming a hard-charging finance man.
It’s happened twice lately. I had a glimpse, and it caught me by surprise. Not as dramatic as in the movie, I didn’t move into an alternate universe and see what my life could have been like (that would be a whole other post). But I did have a glimpse of what life as a parent might be like when the boys are older. And it was really nice.
My first glimpse came when my wife and I took the older two boys on a three-day trip to New York a few weeks ago while my parents watched the little guy and the dog. (I feel bad for our youngest, he keeps getting grouped with the dog while the other two get to go and do exciting trips. He didn’t seem to mind this time, although we’re starting to wonder if it is a coincidence that the following week he behaved like a hellion. Perhaps it’s his way of expressing his disgust!)
We’d just finished a jam-packed day hitting all the Manhattan tourist spots and were having a sit-down dinner at John’s Pizza on 44th Street. (It’s my wife’s old standby from when we lived in the city and needed to take out-of-town guests someplace good but easy. It’s in an old church building and actually very cool if you haven’t been there.) I’m learning that an upscale pizza dinner is a great option for the family – the boys eat it, it’s generally fairly loud, and it’s not overly expensive.
So we were at John’s, sitting under the fading evening light as it seeped through the stained glass in the old ceiling. We were eating pizza, I was drinking a beer, and Mom and I were telling old stories that were making the boys laugh. And then it struck me – this is fun! No one is fighting, throwing menus, spilling drinks. We’re not having to take care of anyone, we’re just enjoying each other’s company together. It was really nice.
The second glimpse happened this week on our way home from spending a few days at the north end of Virginia Beach with the whole family. We’d spent a good four hours that morning wrapping up our beach time. We’d packed up the car and were headed toward home. I was hungry and tired from dragging all the beach crap across the sand and loading up the van and the roof rack. We had stopped at a sandwich place and after the typical ordeal of the ordering of food was over, I waited at the counter for the food to be ready so I wouldn’t snap at the kids or my wife back at the table.
As I brought the food back, my wife had put the three boys at a booth by themselves and she and I were at the table across the aisle. (Writing this now, I’m realizing that both times were at restaurants with the kids, I think there’s a stress pattern there…) And while I took my first few bites of my sub, it hit me again. I looked across at the kids, sitting in the old dirty booth. There was no stained glass this time, just a stained ceiling tile that had been there for way too long. But it hit me nonetheless, in a different way this time. We weren’t neccesarily having fun together, although we’d had a great time at the beach the past few days, but rather there was just a bit of distance to have some space – some room to breathe. To be with the kids but not with them, if you know what I mean.
This morning, I didn’t really have the same kind of glimpse, but I did see another step of the boys getting older. They helped me spread five yards of mulch around the flower beds. It started off a bit rough with more complaining and standing around yapping about how much money they were going to get paid than mulching. But about halfway through, they started to get into it and settled into the rhythm of the physical work. I felt good, this time more about what I was teaching them than what they were giving me. About how to stick with things. How to work hard even when you don’t want to. About how to move toward a goal and focus on the moment.
I’m not wishing the years away. It’s still a while until they’re all grown up, and quite frankly I don’t know that I want them to be grown up anyway. But it’s nice to see that glimpse of what they will be like as men. While we waited for our seat at John’s Pizza, we sat the boys on stools at the bar and they pretended to be the ones drinking my beer. (Yes, only pretended, relax.) There’s a fine line between wanting to be grown up and still being a kid. My youngest just ran over to look at my computer screen and then bounded away proclaiming that he was off to take his afternoon nap. That made me smile since it reminded me that there’s still plenty of time, and I pray that we’ll all be ready for what lies ahead at its own pace. In the meantime, I look forward to my next glimpse.