Grown, gone in the flicker of a moment

Posted: Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Parents who stay at home tend to spend a lot of time with their kids. That factoid should hardly come as a surprise. The point of staying home, after all, is to tend to the children.

This month is something of an exception. My kids aren't here. Neither is my wife. Frankly, I'm glad they're gone.

Don't get me wrong. I love and miss my family, and I'll be ecstatic when I can see them all again. Sometimes it just makes more sense for them all to go away, however, and the current situation is a perfect case in point.

I did a major remodel of our last home a few years ago. It took all of one summer to do the bulk of the work, and the work lingered long into the fall after my wife went back to her teaching job.

The reality of many handyman projects is that it takes an infinitely longer period of time to accomplish any given task when there are children underfoot. If the handyman is also responsible for childcare then it becomes next to impossible to get anything done.

The "working" partner of every parenting couple should keep that last point firmly in mind when they come home and see the house in less than pristine condition. Parenting is a job all in itself: Housework is extra duty.

This time around the kids are gone and the wife is gone, gone away to spend a couple of weeks of quality time with Grandma and Grandpa. In their place my dad came up from Illinois and the two of us have been going after some of the items on my usually neglected honey-do list.

And the result? In eight days of diligent work my dad and I polished off a project that probably would have consumed the whole summer if the kids had been here. We have also enjoyed a really good, long visit together.

Even so, I miss my kids. This brief time away from them serves as a reminder that, someday, they'll have their own lives to live apart and away from me and my wife. I know it's coming too. My dad has been there. So have I.

The other reason my dad came to Alaska this summer was to see my oldest daughter get married. She went to Fairbanks to earn her college degree and to learn something about living in the world outside of Juneau, and it was in Fairbanks that she met a fine young man and fell in love.

Because my oldest daughter grew up living with her mother I didn't have a day-to-day connection with her, and I had an easier time letting her go when she went to college. Still, sometimes, I miss my little girl, a feeling that only strengthened when the newly married, recently graduated bride revealed the couple's plan to move to Texas.

Luckily, I know that family ties don't have to be diminished with distance. Many of the greatest adventures I've had with my dad have taken place over the nearly three decades since I moved away. With any measure of luck it could be the same with my kids.

In a few more days I'll be with my young family again. My two youngest children are at a great age now, old enough to communicate while still small enough to cradle in my arms. Even now the thought of them causes my eyes to moisten while a feeling of joy wells up inside; isn't this the way a father is supposed to feel about his family?

There was another day, seemingly not long ago, when my oldest daughter was as my young children are now. In a flicker of a moment she became a grown woman. In another flicker my young children will also be grown and gone.

Sometimes, it really is best to live in the present.

I often think about how fleeting these days are and how soon it will be before my young children no longer want or need me to hold them. I find myself cherishing these moments at home with my kids, thankful that I have this time to enjoy them as they are now.

• Michael Wittig is a stay-at-home parent and long-term Juneau resident.

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