My wife Amy was recently in a play in which her character's family was, after many years, selling their family farm. In one scene, she's reflecting with her teenaged son about the memories they shared in the house, and she dreamily reminisces about the bedtime stories she had made up for him when he was a young boy. She ends this scene with the line, "I don't remember the last time I told you one of those stories."
On this day, as my son, Nick, enters fourth grade, I found this line particularly profound. He is growing up, and there are lots of things I "used to do" with him that he's now grown out of. But, just like Amy's character, I don't remember the last time I did those particular things with him.
"Then it occurred to me that never again would he be seven years, one month, and six days old, so we had better catch these moments while we can." -Bill Bryson
It's not like, one night before bedtime, we agreed that tonight would be the last "Nicky, the Skunk and the Dinosaur" story we'd make up together (based on my son and two of his favorite stuffed animals, and especially on my son's then-obsession with the idea of them racing around the country needing to hit all 50 states to win, as well as the Dinosaur's obsession with finding and eating "uncooked meat").
Instead, the stories just gradually ended, replaced by reading a chapter of a Roald Dahl classic each night, recapping the Yankees game or quizzing each other on Star Wars characters.
I LOVED co-creating and telling these stories, especially as we expanded the cast of characters to many other stuffed animals and his real-life best friends (especially Jesse and Lucas). But some nights, I bristled and resisted. Some nights, I grew impatient when Nick would "correct" my story by insisting on some detail or another. Sometimes, I was just tired and wanted a quick hug before turning out the lights.
Most of the time, I stayed for a quick story and was glad I did. But now I look back and miss the Skunk and the Dinosaur, and I kick myself for not fully appreciating the stories at the time. I miss "Nicky" too -- he now insists on the more grown-up sounding "Nick." (I miss Buzz Lightyear, Wubbzy, Blue's Clues, Curious George, blowing bubbles and lots of other Nicky stuff, too.)
There are still lots of fun things we do together, and many things we'll always remember. However, thanks to Amy's character's line, I will now be more conscious of our dad-and-son rituals, less likely to put Nick off when he asks me to play lightsabers or film his elaborate "Epic Fail," or work on his batting stance or help him put together the LEGO version of Jabba's Sail Barge.
Instead, I resolve to say yes to his requests, and to soak it in every time (I can almost always make up the half hour of work or writing after he goes to bed). After all, skunks and dinosaurs don't live forever. You never know when the next time you do something together is the last time you do that thing together. Perhaps we all could resolve to catch these moments while we can.