Imagine, if you will, all the milestone moments in a child’s life as a parent ushers that child from birth to adulthood, maybe even to parenthood. If you wrote down on a slip of paper every “normal” milestone, and a few extras thrown in for a heartier life experience, those pieces of paper would fill a child’s beach pail. Think of it as the reverse of an adult’s “Bucket List.” This Beach Pail List involves the events a parent will likely witness, all the rites of passage that will take place, from a first smile to a first step, from a first day of school to a first dance, all those moments up until that ultimate defining moment when a parent can cut loose the last apron string and hand over that beach pail to a son (or daughter), who is now himself (or herself) a parent.
I’ve been going through quite a few of those slips of paper in recent weeks. My youngest daughter will turn twenty-one in less than two months. This week she had her wisdom teeth removed, one of the last rites of passage of adolescence. I was talking with the dental nurse before the procedure, telling her that Brianna has three older sisters who have gone through this. Each sister had previously shared her story with Brianna, so much so that Brianna had fretted about this moment for several years. After the procedure, Brianna was relieved to find out it wasn’t as horrible as her sisters had made it out to be. And I was relieved to have one more “last time I do this” moment.
Having four daughters doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve done the same thing exactly the same way four different times. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that most of my Beach Pail List items were done four different ways. For example, each of my daughters learned to crawl and then walk. One crawled early and was walking at nine months. One crawled early but didn’t want to walk until much later. One crawled late, but walked soon after. One crawled late and then took a long time to walk. Each completed the two growth measurements, but each in her own way. And yet, I witnessed my four daughters crawl and walk.
Keeping with the metaphor, it’s been interesting watching that Beach Pail become less and less full, to the point now where there are just a few slips of paper left, just a few “normal” milestones left for Brianna to accomplish before society will consider her truly an adult. I thought I might be melancholy as the pail began to empty out, but that hasn’t been the case. I’ve actually been quite relieved. Perhaps it is the circuitous route that Brianna took to get to this point that brings such strong feelings of relief. Or maybe it’s that I’ve “been there done that” four times. No matter the why, with each slip of paper that is removed from the Beach Pail, I find a lessening of my parental obligations, a lifting of weight from my shoulders, my own “parental graduation” moment. It’s so liberating! So rewarding!
As I write this, I’m thinking of writing down all those milestone moments and putting them in a Beach Pail for my oldest daughter, the mother of two. If I do, I’m certain she will look at me suspiciously. “Trust me,” I will tell her. “You will feel so good when it’s empty.”