"I was four for a second, but now I am five," my friend Cathie's 5-year-old told a new friend a few days after his fifth birthday.
Those words express the feelings of so many parents, especially at this time of year. We had a wide-eyed baby for a second. We blinked and had a little girl who wanted to be a princess when she grew up. Faster than the wave of a wand our princess was a student and a tennis player and, oh my, she walked into the gymnasium last night with her high school classmates, wearing a mortarboard.
On the morning after our daughter's graduation and her party I'm up early, gingerly walking on a kitchen floor sticky with cake crumbs and bits of frosting. Trash bags are overflowing. But the serving platters are washed, and, surrounded by several unopened presents, I see the beginnings of her thank you list on the kitchen table. After I had collapsed into bed, I heard her, working late, trying to put some semblance of order into
a house that showed all the after effects of celebration.
I turn towards the dining room. Then I wince -- not because of the crumpled blue and gold napkins and a few dirty plates -- but because I see a kitchen towel attempting to blot a seeping red punch stain on my beige lace tablecloth. My heart sinks. Will I ever be able to use my favorite tablecloth again?
I regret the loss.
But then another part of me says wait a minute... take comfort in the fact that the stain will be a reminder of a very happy night. A time when the house was bursting with proud adults and lively kids.
The stain, I tell myself, will be a reminder of laughter and good times. And it will be a silent testimony to the fact that kids leave their mark on the world, in more ways than one! They mean well, and they'll do well.
Every bit of common sense says hurry, get that tablecloth soaking. Try to get rid of the red so we can use it again at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Carefully, I take the tablecloth upstairs and soak it with Biz, the way my mother-in-law taught me. While making suds I review the things I have saved over the years. The things I cherish are not without stain or blemish. I gave away most of the party perfect dresses and suits. I have saved threadbare blankets and favorite T-shirts and sundresses. The books I treasure are the ones with tattered pages and worn out spines. The three dolls I tucked away look ready for toy heaven.
The rest of the family sleeps while the tablecloth soaks and I write. We have two graduates and two more to come. Time is going fast. I can't stop the clock, but I can put my thoughts on paper so that these moments don't slip away forever.
After about an hour I check the tablecloth. The red is fading. In fact, it is almost gone, and it looks like the tablecloth will be perfect again.
As I gently stretch the fabric and lay it out to dry, I see no evidence of punch, no sign of a party in the intricate lace design. But I know that when I get the tablecloth out next Thanksgiving, I'll search again for the stain's dim outline.
And I'll remember... these precious seconds.