The clock that sits on the dresser in my bedroom ticks loudly. Very loudly. It has become a point of contention in my family. My oldest daughter cannot tolerate its incessant ticking. When using the computer in my room, she has been known to banish the clock to the clothes closet and drape it with a blanket to muffle its noise. (There is irony in her dislike of the ticking, but more on this later.)
I, on the other hand, love the soothing sound the clock makes. Many nights my jangled nerves have been calmed by the rhythmic ticking, an acoustic sleep-aid that also tells time.
The reason my daughter and I experience the ticking sound so differently has puzzled me for over a year. Several nights ago, I got a little closer to the reason. My daughter and I attended an informational meeting about the various high school options for students in our area. A panel of administrators, teachers, and older students discussed career choices, college admissions, and so on. My fourteen-year-old daughter breezed through the meeting like a pro, asking intelligent questions and listening raptly as a guidance counselor told the crowd of students that the world was their oyster.
I surprised myself. Sitting quietly next to my daughter, I refrained from saying or doing anything to embarrass her—in the car ride to the school, she begged me not to ask weird or unnecessary questions; apparently, I do this sort of thing. I made it through the meeting with poise, unaware of the turbulence my parental psyche was undergoing below the surface.
Nothing seemed amiss until later that night. Both of my daughters were asleep, and my husband had just turned off our bedroom lights and settled in for the night. I cleared my mind and focused on the ticking clock. Instead of being lulled into sleep, I was hurtled back thirteen years to the living room of one our first apartments. I felt like Ebenezer Scrooge watching a scene from my past. There, near the window, was the big potted ficus tree. Afternoon sunlight filtered through the blinds onto the worn, hardwood floor, and by the plant sat a baby swing. It was one of those battery-operated models that many beleaguered parents have found refuge in because of its power to calm fussy babies. My oldest daughter was especially irritable in the afternoon and fought naps valiantly. I would put her in the swing, click on the safety belt, and turn on the swing. With one gentle push to get the swing started, she was quickly rocked to sleep. It was like magic!
I remember watching her swing back and forth, overwhelmed by exhaustion from sleepless nights and by the fierce love I felt for her. Those quiet afternoons were my saving grace back then. Sometimes I would fold laundry, clean dishes, or read a book. Usually, I slept on the couch, only a few feet from my swinging baby. The background music of those afternoons was the swing’s rhythmic rocking, the exact same cadence of the ticking clock on my dresser.
As soon as my mind connected the clock and the swing, I realized that I was crying. I began crying so hard that I got out of bed and went into another room so that I wouldn’t wake my husband. Where had all of those years gone? One minute she was my sleeping baby with her plump, tawny-colored legs dangling down from a baby swing; the next minute she is a young woman with plans that involve high school, learning to drive, college, career … oysters …
Even though I want all of these things for her, this hurts. This is hard. None of this involves me coaxing her into nap time. My oldest child is growing up, and it won’t be long before she leaves home. Then, a few years after she goes, my precious youngest daughter will also go. I will reminisce and long for the special times she and I spent in our favorite rocking chair, reading books and cuddling. This is good. It is the natural order of things. But it still hurts. When my girls were toddlers, they had the occasional grocery store tantrum. I used to roll my eyes at the older women who watched and said, “Someday you will miss these days because they go by so quickly, dear.” I used to turn away and think to myself, “sure, right!” But of course, they were right.
As for the clock on my dresser, it could be symbolic of the ceaseless march of time, a comforting connection to poignant memories, or a reminder of the machine that forced naps upon an unwilling baby. It could be all or none of these things. It will stay on my dresser, though, and I will continue doing my best to savor every minute I have with my children. I will let the ticking remind me just how precious this time is.