As parents, we mark milestones in our childrenís lives: a toddlerís first step is a biggie. At our house, as much as we clapped and laughed and cried at that first step, our joy that day didnít come close to matching the celebration that accompanied the last diaper we ever changed. Three children, each two years apart. I felt like Iíd been changing diapers half my adult life. The day the youngest was potty trained was a day of celebration. I kept that last diaper for several weeks, just to look at it and smile, knowing Iíd never have to smell another one again. Lynn made me take it out to the garage when it started stinking up the laundry room, and she was positively hostile when I mentioned bronzing. I pointed out that we had never had any of the baby shoes bronzed. No go. She can be quite uncooperative at times.
Major milestones followed in quick succession: the first day of kindergarten, tying their own shoes, learning to ride a twowheeler. But the next moment to carry the same significance as The Last Diaper, was the day the Sunday paper before Thanksgiving came and no one scrambled for the Toys R Us catalog. I tried to pass it over to the youngest. She wasnít interested. Too busy painting her nails. Apparently neon-green was in that week. I sat back on the couch for a moment, dumfounded. Then realized the next capital letter moment had arrived: No Standing in Line on Black Friday!
No getting up at 3:00 a.m to get a place at the head of the line of cold, miserable fathers, torn between self-pity and fear. We knew that if we didnít get one of the 10 Surfer/CEO Barbies or Sponge Bob Wets Himself before the other 200 dads we might as well take that job in the Alaskan oil fields, because they wouldnít be letting us back in the house until next Christmas.
What I didnít realize, even as I wondered if it was possible to bronze a newspaper insert, was that my children werenít paying any attention to the Toys R Us catalog because they were passing around the inserts from Radio Shack, Best Buy, Game Stop, and yes, even Wal-Mart and Target, looking carefully through the electronics sections of each those inserts.
They had graduated from talking/wetting dolls to Ipods, Ipads, smart phones, lap tops, notebooks, netbooks. They knew, and wanted to make sure I knew, that theyíd study even harder if they could just have a 42-inch flat screen HD TV in their bedroom. Too late, I realized that I might not be standing in line at Toys R Us but I would be standing in line on Black Friday.
You might have noticed me in that line. I was the guy in the bright red Ho! Ho! Ho! sweater my wife knitted for me last Christmas. I stood in that line thinking about Einstein and Hawking, who had been trying to tell us time is not linear, but circular. And if youíre a parent, circular time will bring you back to a line at 3:00 a.m. every Black Friday. And if that doesnít scare you, remember, time is infinite.
Despite Einstein and Hawking, I tell myself that there will be a time when all three kids are out of the house, on their own. Weíll send them a postcard and a check for Christmas. Then I remember seeing the men in that line. It wasnít just composed of dads, but granddads in it as well. At some point Iíll be back in that line because there will be a grand kid that just has to have Elmo Kiss My Bleep. And Iíll be in line fighting for it. In circular time, the spirit of Christmas means being willing to stand in line at 3:00 on Black Friday because youíve got a kid that you donít want to disappoint.