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There was a time when I was, shall we say, emotionally reserved. Not quite Spockish — maybe Alec Guinness in Bridge on the River Kwai. The music behind the menu selections on a DVD can bring Becca to tears, but until recently I could watch the scene in The Notebook where James Garner brings his wife out of her dementia just long enough to dance with her before she slips back under for another year — and never stop trying to remember the theme from The Rockford Files.

Those days are long gone. Parenting has made me a complete sap. A couple of weeks ago, Becca came back from Target and laid a couple of pretty pairs of socks on Laney’s and Erin’s pillows and a box of Connor’s favorite energy bars on his. “Just a little surprise,” she said. “They’ve been working so hard lately.”

I burst into tears.

This is me lately. The Notebook is entirely out of the question. I can’t even make it to the end of Charlotte’s Web.


I think I know what’s behind it. The winds of change are blowing hard around here lately. The youngest entered kindergarten, the middle is on the cusp of puberty, and the oldest — once a suckling babe — is 20 months from high school.

Becca and I (I realized last week with a shock) have reached the precise midpoint of our children’s childhood. Twelve years ago our eldest was born; twelve years from now, our youngest will enter college.

Erin, at age nine, is the emblem of all this, exactly midway between entering our home and leaving it. So it’s not surprising that a recent picture of Erin made me gasp:

erin violin

Like all photos, it was a moment trapped in amber. But this particular moment had an absurdly large number of meaningful elements trapped in it — all of them in flux. Some had already changed in the weeks since it was taken. Everything else would change before you could sing “Sunrise, Sunset.”

Let’s take a quick inventory:

First the obvious. My little girl will shortly turn ten. Then eleven. Then twenty-six.

If she sticks with violin, the little blue tapes on the neck will come off soon. But she probably won’t even make it that far — she’s decided to switch back to piano, which means this photo narrows the frame to four possible months of her life, our first four months in Atlanta. Back on the dresser, beneath her bow, is her third grade league championship baskeball trophy from Minnesota (8-and-0, woohoo!). The design of the names on the wall is an idea from a dear family friend we left behind — Erin wanted her letters caddywompus, and Delaney wanted hers straight across.

Above Erin’s bed in the black frame is a collage of photos from her going-away party in Minnesota, signed by her friends. The Beatles poster has since given way to Zac Efron and Miley Cyrus.

At the head of her bed is an interesting blob of amber in its own right: a photo of Erin, Delaney, and Connor at Christmas in 2005. Will she still have a photo of her brother and sister over her bed in four years? It’s possible. I somehow doubt it.

I could go on with clothes, hair, Raggedy Ann, the paint on the walls, even her experiments with nail polish — but you get the idea. The shutter hadn’t even closed before these things started to change.

I could also work in some connection to meaning-making, or something about how the passage of time is especially poignant to those who know full well they are mortal. Mostly I just wanted to share a little of the intensely bittersweet feeling here at the midpoint of the most satisfying and purposeful period of my life.

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.