As I was watching President Obama's second Inaugural ceremony last Monday, I was struck by how quickly four years can fly right by.
Four years ago, on January 20, 2009, I was sitting with my son, Joey, who had recently turned 5. He kept asking me who that man was on TV and why I kept watching him.
I explained that he had recently been chosen as the new president of our country. I hesitated for a moment to get into a discussion of race with him, but I plunged in anyway with an explanation of why President Obama was special.
That part of the discussion was lost on Joey. He was more interested in saying President Obama's name -- "OBAMA!" -- kind of like "Mufasa" in one of his favorite movies, The Lion King. It sounded good rolling off his tongue.
Joey was a special boy himself: precocious, lively, energetic, full of ideas and ever-aware of what was happening around him.
That March, as President Obama was making a mark by becoming the first sitting president to appear on "The Tonight Show," Joey was marking being 5 by rocking his kindergarten physical with a clean bill of health.
Just a month later, as the president was discussing his first 100 days in office and outlining his plans that had already been implemented, our family was discussing plans for the treatment of an inoperable brain tumor with which Joey had just been shockingly diagnosed.
And just like that, the world changed again.
Maybe not for every American, but for our little family.
For the next year, as our country continued to fight an overseas war against an elusive, terroristic beast, our family waged war against an elusive beast of our own. A beast that was determined to take our son away from us.
On October 9, 2009, as President Obama was winning the Nobel Prize, we had a small victory of our own -- an area of shrinkage in Joey's tumor that we hadn't thought was possible.
That Christmas, as the president was flying to Hawaii for a ten-day family vacation, we were getting a treat of our own: listening to a sick Joey sing "Jingle Bells" to our entire extended family, twice. That was the greatest gift we could have received that year, as we knew it would be his last Christmas with us.
In the spring of 2010, as The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the first major health care reform law enacted in the history of the United States, was signed into law by the president, our family made the painful decision to permanently withdraw Joey from kindergarten. He was just too ill to continue with school.
And on June 10, 2010, as President Obama was meeting with family members of those who died in the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion, our family members were gathered around us as we said good-bye to our sweet 6-year-old boy.
In the months that followed, as our nation struggled to end the conflict in Iraq, I struggled to get out of bed each morning, grief heavy in my heart and on my mind.
That fall, as the president was awarding Medals of Honor and changing laws to include more P.C.-friendly language, I was learning that I was pregnant once again at age 40.
In the spring of 2011, our country seemed obsessed with the death of the world's worst terrorist. I was obsessed with the baby I was carrying and the hope that it would be healthy. I felt unable to handle any more heartache, but knew I needed to carry on for the sake of my baby and my family.
In June, just as the president was announcing his plan to withdraw 33,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the summer of 2012, we were making plans to bring our beautiful, healthy baby boy home to meet his brothers.
A year and a half later, as thousands of troops still remain in Afghanistan, grief still remains in my heart over the son that I have lost. His baby brother, though, is definitely a healing presence in our lives.
On Monday, January 21, 2013, as I watched Barack Obama take his second oath of office and looked on as the news media flashed images of the much less gray-haired new president of four years ago, I realized something about time.
It has the disheartening quality of dragging painfully on through conflict, illness, and troubled times. We limp through these events just hoping to come out at the other end with a shred of ourselves intact.
And at that end, when we turn and look back, it seems unfathomable that time actually did pass. That we survived. That, but for the scars we bear, we are stronger.
The passage of time shows us that change is inevitable and progress is eventual.
But we often can't see this looking ahead.
I'm sure that as Barack Obama looks back to January 20, 2009, he sees a lesson in change, progress, forward motion.
Perhaps by 2016, we will finally have all of our troops home. Maybe the national debt will be less.
I don't know where the next four years will take my family. Joey's twin brother will be 13-years-old by then. It's tough for me to look at him now as a gangly 9-year-old who loves Star Wars and see a teenager who will likely have very different interests.
But it will happen soon enough.
When I look back to that Inauguration Day four years ago and remember having my sweet 5-year-old son by my side, I see it as a lesson in how time is a thief, fleeting and shifty, ready to steal our promised memories and change our tomorrows.
And how, though four years is far from a lifetime, the events that occur during that time can impact one forever.