Our neighbors, Keith and Kellee Crider, are a few years our senior with four children. Two are in college. One is in high school. Their last child, Grant, is like a brother to my children. He is in the fourth grade with our son, Phillip.
Whenever I am dealing with a new phase with one of our children, I consult Kellee. Her level-headed, "this too shall pass" attitude has guided me through miles of new parenting terrain. Her friendship has been invaluable.
Keith is a jovial, easy-going guy. Generally, a smile lights his face. Every once in a while, however, he says something so serious and profound that it stops us in our tracks.
Such was the case one evening as my husband and I were socializing in the Criders' family room.
Pat had spent much of the day fixing our lawn tractor (which is a WHOLE other story that I promised not to write about!). Late in the afternoon, he reached success. The tractor was running -- and running well!
Our youngest child, David, nestled on Pat's lap as he cut the grass.
"I used to love that," Keith said with wistful reminiscence in his voice. "I used to always cut the grass with Grant riding on my lap.
Then he paused as the smile left his face.
"I don't remember the last time he rode with me," he paused again, thinking. "One day he got off and he just never got back on."
We all fell silent.
"I don't remember when that was..." Keith said, trying hard to recall. "I didn't know it would be the last time..."
Trying to make him feel better, I foolishly uttered, "It was last year. I saw him riding with you last year."
"No," Keith responded. "It wasn't last year. He never rode with me last year."
We all sat quietly, lost in our thoughts.
A rite of passage
We knew remembering the exact day Grant took his last ride on the tractor with Dad wasn't important.
It was the fact that he had -- a rite of passage signifying Grant was growing up.
My husband was thinking of the last time our oldest son called him "coach." After years of baseball and soccer, school affiliated sports has relegated Dad to the bleachers.
When was the last game they shared in the dugout together?
Did they win? Did they lose? Would they have celebrated more either way if they had known it would be the last?
Kellee was thinking of her oldest daughter. A junior in college, she won't be living at home this summer.
When was the last night she lived in the house?
Did they eat together as a family? Did Kellee make her daughter's favorite meal?
Probably not. She didn't know it would be the last.
As parents, we like to document all the firsts -- first day of school, first dance, first date.
We hold these as milestones in a child's life.
Yet, with every first there comes a last.
Watching Keith and Kellee travel through a season of "last times" -- a season that Pat and I have only mildly experienced, we see the sweet sadness of letting go.
There is sadness for all those things that will never be again.
But their sorrow is made sweet by the fact that they have no regrets.
That's what I've learned from Keith and Kellee.
They have helped me to realize that parenthood isn't about being "perfect," not making any mistakes. It's about not having any regrets.
Keith will never regret all the times his youngest little boy sat on his lap on the tractor.
Kellee, a licensed CPA, made the decision to quit working when that daughter, who is now living 100 miles away, was a baby. She doesn't regret one lost paycheck.
As parents, we can't stop the "last times" from happening. All we can do is ensure that from the first to the last, we give our children everything they need for their next first.
Because, before you know it, children grow up and move away. They get off the tractor one day and just don't get back on.