The black hole of parenthood

I fell into that black hole of parenthood again yesterday. 

It happens increasingly often – I realize that something that feels recent to me actually happened decades ago. I’ve concluded that my 16 years of being a parent are a kind of black hole that swallows and collapses the passage of time. Fast forward: One minute it’s 1993, next minute it’s 2010!

Yesterday’s black hole moment came from a San Francisco Chronicle interview with Patrick Stewart, who played the wonderful Captain Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation, which Sam and I watched assiduously (obsessively?) in our pre-parent days. 

Patrick Stewart and William Shatner answer questions at a Star Trek convention in SF, Jan. 2010. Photo by Lacy Atkins/The Chronicle

Stewart mentioned that he had started playing Picard 23 years ago. 

Twenty-three years! 

That seemed so much longer than I would have estimated. It felt to me like maybe twelve or fifteen years since Sam and I started watching the show. Certainly a while, but not a quarter century. Not twenty-three years!

Another recent instance: The son of my sister-in-law got married in January for a second time. My sister-in-law was talking about the wedding and mentioned that her son was 38. I almost fell out of my chair. Thirty-eight! I still think of him as a 22-year-old, just-out-of-college techie whiz-kid. And now he’s thirty-eight?

 I did the math about my sister-in-law’s son and realized I was missing 16 years. Those 16 years had just slipped by me somehow. And how old is my daughter? Sixteen.

That’s when it hit me about the parenthood black hole.

Some whole swatches of pop culture and politics got sucked into that black hole. For instance, I don’t know much pop music from the 1990s. Nirvana who? We were too busy playing Broadway Kids and Raffi in the car all the time.

I kind of missed Health Care Reform Debacle, Round 1 (but oh joy, I got to experience Round 2 this year). I missed nearly any popular movie from the ‘90s and early ‘00s that didn’t involve a princess, talking animals, or wizards with British accents.

And then my 40s vanished wholesale. One minute I was 35, an eager young newspaper reporter, and now suddenly I am 52 and my industry is on life-support and the AARP keeps sending me membership solicitations.

Of course, the parenthood black hole is finite.  We have only one child, and in two and a half years she will leave for college. Already she’s receding from our daily lives – lots of sleepovers at friends’, hours in her room with the door closed, plans to travel to Israel for a month with a group of other local teens this summer. This year more than ever I feel like the ground is being laid for us to become empty nesters.

So when she’s gone, will time slow down again? Will years feel like years again, and not like minutes?

Maybe it’s not just parenthood that causes this. Maybe it’s being involved and engaged in life. You get involved, you get busy, time passes, and… poof! Patrick Stewart is 70 and you’re 52. 

I don’t know, but I hope things slow down. I love being engaged, I’ve loved being a parent (well, most of the time), but I also don’t want life to flit by so fast.

I kind of miss sitting in a really tedious college lecture or City Council meeting and thinking: “God, this is lasting forever. Won’t it ever be over?”

Forget cryogenics.  Tedium may be the key to living forever. Or at least feeling like it.

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4 Responses to “The black hole of parenthood”

  1. susan milligan Says:

    Sorry to say time moves faster, not slower, as you get older. I feel the way you do about “time” since my kids left home. Two years ago my son got notice of HIS 20th high school reunion. HIS, not MINE! I couldn’t believe it. This year I will turn 65 (hard to believe) but he will turn 40 (even harder to believe). Still when I was watching the (much acclaimed but who knows why) movie Up in the Air time seemed to slow down and nearly stop. Time seemed to move just as slowly as it did in high school math class and in Temple board meetings. Trust me, even my childless friends complain of the same time speeding up phenomenon. Just one of the nasty parts of getting old.

    • Ilana DeBare Says:

      Maybe you have stumbled on a new strategy for marketing bad movies (although I loved Up in the Air): The ads could read “Experience immortality — see this movie and feel time come to a halt!” :-)

  2. Lewis Buchner Says:

    Besides all of the philosophical reflections on this phenomenon -there is also a simple math analysis:
    At age 20, 1 more year represents another 5% of our entire lifetime.
    At age 50, 1 more year represents only 2% of our entire lifetime.
    At age 80 a year is only 1.25% ….
    It may not just be about parenting – it might be also about the inexorable march of time …

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