The killing frost had not come yet and everything was still holding on. The bees were stinging and the tomatoes still ripening. Pumpkins looked awkward in the heat and sunshine. I thought it strange to be wearing shorts and sunscreen at that time of the year. But the weather afforded us more days outside, more afternoons at the park.
While I was at the park that day with the children, I noticed a tree. The leaves at the top were still green and they sort of faded into red in the middle and then the rest of the tree was golden. The tree was full, few of the leaves had fallen.
I sat in the park while the younger children played and the older children went off to walk around the baseball diamond and talk, hang out. I sat and I stared at that tree. I stared at the tree because it was beautiful and fleeting and I wanted it to stay. By next week, the leaves will fall.
I have been struck lately, as I never have before, at how fast my children are growing up. Before, it was something older people with older children said to me. With predictable phrases about how I should enjoy my children because they grow up so fast. But this fall, for the first time, I have felt it so deeply that the realization saddens me.
My oldest is 9 and she no longer plays in the park. She hangs out. Walking as far away from me as she can with her friend, before circling back. And there in the sandbox my youngest at 3 makes birthday cakes. Blown out like the candles on sandbox birthday cakes, in thousands of breaths that seem like one, six years have passed.
I don’t know how I should do what older people tell me to do. How should I enjoy my children? Appreciating fullness? Being grateful? Or being sad that my oldest is 9 and no longer plays in the sand?
The words of a Robert Frost poem circle through my memory. I learned the poem when I was a child because I wanted to memorize poetry. My mother had a book of Robert Frost poems that she had purchased in college and I picked out “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” My father told me it was a very sad poem. But as a child, I didn’t pay much attention to the meaning, I simply liked the sound of it.
Every night in my room I would read it aloud to myself.
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
And I memorized it then so that I remember it now.
As I am looking at the tree I can not name, I enjoy the words of the Robert Frost poem in my memory, their beauty, their rhythm, and their rhyme. And I notice an elderly woman in a wheelchair. As her caregiver pushes her slowly along the path, she gazes at the children. She smiles while she watches them play.
There in the warmth and the sunshine the bees are still out, and so are we. Me, the elderly woman and the leaves, and we listen to the children play.
Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. She can be reached at email@example.com.