The minutes seem short when you have a teenager. You feel like you’ve got your own personal doomsday clock: it’s reached 11:59 before you even realized it. Having a child grow up is not the end of the world though; most days of living with a teenager, you wonder if you will make it to your child’s adulthood or whether your brain, heart, and temper will explode before then.
There’s something cruel about arriving at middle age as your child arrives at adolescence. Here you are questioning what you’ve done with your life so far and now you’re also questioning if you’ve done any good as a parent.
Here you are about to teach someone to drive a car, and you wonder if you have done even a fraction of what you need to help this person live independently on her own. Is there still time to teach her to roast a turkey, change a tire, always keep an eye on her drink, spot bad men and women from a distance, and do hospital corners on a dorm bed? Hell, I’ve never changed a tire in the wild .
Sometimes when I need it and I’m panicking about the last years under our roof (dear lord, so we hope), the gift of time travel arrives.
This morning, driving Elly to work, I plugged my phone into the car, and the phone and the radio contrived some magic between them. Out of the blue, the radio started playing one of the old Sesame Street songs that I’d downloaded a dozen years ago on a different phone. Unthought of for years, here were Ernie, Big Bird, and Herbert Birdsfoot serenading us about harmony. Elly was incredulous. She surely hadn’t ever wanted to listen to this terrible song. She had surely never heard it before, she thought.
For me, time stopped. In my panic that time races, I forget how much time there has been. Caught up in the era of makeup, AP World History, and fighting the fallout of toxic masculinity, I’ve forgotten the years in which Big Bird was the most important figure in our lives.
The song brings me back to little Eleanor and all the time we’ve had. Listening to old Herbert Birdsfoot — Herbert, how can I have forgotten that you were even a character? — I feel like a young mother again.
I heard an interview with Danny Boyle before the Trainspotting sequel came out, and he said that one of the great gifts of middle age is learning that time doesn’t exist or that it doesn’t exist in the way that we thinking, heading forward. We can go back in time in our minds.
I write about the gift of time travel this morning because I want to remember how it works as we head into the rush of January and school tomorrow, all the pressing moments of adolescence and approaching adulthood. I don’t want to forget that sometimes the radio gives you a gift on a Sunday morning. Muppet birds sing on the radio, bringing the gift of reassurance that there has been enough time and all will be well.