The grief of watching kids outgrow their childhoodWritten by Dr. Tim Kimmel
What's inside this article
Sometimes it feels like a low-grade grief – not the overwhelming kind you get when you lose someone for good – but the kind you get when it’s obvious that certain things are changing and they’ll never again be like they were.
That’s what I was feeling as I watched Cody swing the sledgehammer. It only took him a couple dozen well-placed shots to leave a dozen years of memories in a heap in our backyard. The faded cedar slats and redwood 4X4s were all that was left of "Fort Cody."
My son was barely four-years-old when he and I had originally hatched the idea. We had been playing in the backyard when it dawned on me that he could have a lot more fun if he had someplace to call his own. That’s when we came up with the concept of Fort Cody.
It took a few drawings, several weekends and a lot more money than I ever imagined to turn several trips to the lumber yard into a bona fide fort. But it ultimately took shape. There were two towers, a secret compartment, a catwalk, a couple of flags and a board hanging between the towers with "Fort Cody" painted in bold, white letters. When the wood was new and the paint fresh, it was a sight to behold.
The new becomes old
But a dozen years had come and gone. The little boy, who had played in it so much when it was new, was now an inch and a half taller than its builder. The sun, the wind and the scorching Arizona heat had taken its toll. Fort Cody had fallen into a sad state of disrepair.
It had been years since it had served its namesake. It either needed a serious facelift, or it was time to tear it down. Cody had long since out-grown it, too, so the best option was obvious. But the process still made me sad.
Not only had I built Fort Cody, but I had managed to drive a nail deep into the ball of my hand in the process. I remember the afternoon well. I was working alone when a 16-penny nail I was trying to toenail into one of the 4X4s missed its mark and slammed into my hand.
After the initial shock, I had spent about a half hour sitting in the glider at the other side of the house, holding a paper towel on the wound, trying to get it to stop bleeding.
I remember the thought that had overwhelmed me before the ordeal was over: That was just a 16-penny nail that didn’t even go all the way through my hand. It hurts so badly! Lord, how did You ever endure those spikes? It was one of those moments in time that God used to pull me a little closer to Him.
And then there was the night I had brought the little TV out to the fort, and Cody and I had watched King Kong and then camped out all night inside the "secret compartment." I’ll bet it’s but a faint memory in his mind, but it’s one of those nights I’ll never forget.
The old moves on
The fort represented some of the best years of my life because it had served Cody well through his childhood. But he was moving on. This was the year he’d turn sixteen, get his driver’s license and be able to start dating. He had his own razor and email address. He was already formulating specific goals for his future. It was a future that wouldn’t need forts or dads nearby. It was a future that would put into motion all the things he was groomed for. And he was ready.
But I couldn’t help but think that it had all gone by just a little too quickly. And the sudden demise of Fort Cody was a reminder to me how quickly the new becomes old, and the old moves on. It had only taken a few moments to dismantle what had taken me weeks to build and Cody years to enjoy. But that’s how childhood is. It’s this "screaming audio" chapter of a life that is left behind before it’s had a chance to be savoured.
Watching the embers of the past
After some discussion as to the best way to dispose of all the lumber, Cody came up with the novel idea: "Let’s burn it." At first I was taken aback by the thought, and then I figured, "Why not? It should make a tremendous fire!"
And so it was that the pile of lumber that was once Fort Cody was rebuilt into a bonfire. Cody invited about 30 of his friends, and the other siblings added about 20 of theirs. Darcy supplied plenty of hotdogs and the vital ingredients for s’mores. Everyone agreed that it was the biggest fire the neighbourhood had ever seen.
The last kids left about 12:30 a.m., but Cody and I sat in lawn chairs up close to the embers for another hour. It was a crystal-clear night with the kind of chill that makes you lean toward the heat and stare deeply into the glow.
For the most part, neither of us spoke. We just sat next to each other in the dark, watching the past smolder into a pile of dust. That’s how childhood works. It serves its purpose, you tuck its best memories away for safekeeping and then you move on.
" . . . this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13-14).
Dr. Tim Kimmel is the author of Why Christian Kids Rebel and the award-winning Grace Based Parenting. He is also the executive director of Family Matters®, a non-profit ministry that equips families to appropriate God’s grace in every age and stage of life. For more information about Tim, his books and his conferences, visit FamilyMatters.net.
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