Last week I sent my child off to school for his first day of fourth grade. Now in my neck of the woods, fourth grade isn't particularly exciting on paper. It's the often overlooked middle child of school years, neither the coddled baby of the brood, or the oft lauded elder statesman. It's merely another small stepping stone on the the path to the Junior High School Years, the penultimate precursor to bigger, better things of the much more mature middle school variety. But, as always, this first day felt like the first day of all first days to my kid, who is experiencing it all for the very first time.
Now, I realize that's a lot of firsts shoved into one sentence and that my editor would be having a minor coronary right now while using up all the ink on his metaphorical red pen, however it was an entirely intentional misuse of the English language on my part since it drives home my point without any misinterpretation -- firsts are important. Firsts are significant. There aren't many words that are as succinct or fitting. Firsts are the touchstones of our life, the bullet points in our syllabus, the scribbled captions in the photo albums of our memories. They aren't always the best, can sometimes be the worst, and are often so mediocre that they're hard to remember the specifics of. Yet, they remain forever Numero Uno in the footnotes of the encyclopedia that is our lives, benchmarks that are an indelible part of what makes us US.
When I think about that, when it occurs to me that I'm so far into my own list of personal firsts that I'm nearly at the point where I have to wait for the next generation to graciously provide them for me, I can't help but feel slightly...forlorn. (Can you say Grandma people? Because I can't without sounding like the Fonz trying to admit he was wrong.) Despite what common knowledge clearly states, and my mother never fails to remind me, time flies and we ain't getting any younger. The passage of time is as inevitable as me drinking wine, buying those shoes, or the tides. It is happening. And while the benefits of growing up are amazingly exciting and downright liberating, the idea of growing old, or fundamentally running out of time, is just plain terrifying. There ain't no cream, pill, or medical procedure out there right now that can change the fact that I'll never get the opportunity to experience that first kiss again, that first win, that first good review, that first ride, that first love, or that first heartbreak. (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE YOU RAT BASTARD!) It's all in the past. Sands through the hourglass. Dust in the wind. Slam, bam, thank you ma'am! Goodnight Long Island and thank you! Mic drop.
I think that's why when I talk to my younger relatives, or have a conversation with someone who's about to get married, or go off to college, I can't help but provide the same (entirely unsolicited) advise: slow down, take a deep breath, and try to be in the moment -- to not let the excitement and forward momentum of everything going on get in the way of them fully experiencing or even noticing the tiny nuggets of greatness that life can sometimes unexpectedly dole out.
The truth is, firsts are finite and all too soon become few and far between. They're one shot only, limited time offers, with absolutely no returns, no do-overs, and no backsies. They're IT. They don't give a damn if you weren't paying attention.
So, I've decided, it's my mission today to put my money where my mouth is and listen to my own advise; to take a little time to appreciate the epic firsts that have shaped my world, while keeping my fingers tightly crossed that I may still have a few more pleasant surprises coming my way. And maybe, just maybe, if I'm really lucky I can impart to my son, my sponge, my Boo, my living, breathing legacy, how wonderful it is that he's nervous because it's his first day of 'insert whatever grade here', because that means it's consequential enough to make an impression.