I make my way up the long dirt driveway to my friend's house just like I've done every week or so for the past three years. It's unusual that I'm visiting on a Friday but it's a special day. My friend, Lauren, is turning five today. The house sits up on a hill overlooking a field. In the winter I get there after the sun has set. The lights in the house glow out through the large south facing windows. The long approach offers me time to enjoy the scene of "cozy-house-on-the-hill" knowing there are people inside for whom I care deeply. But it's spring now and the sun will still be up for another hour or so. Blades of grass are soaking up the light and making fresh chlorophyll. The snowbanks are almost gone. Soon we'll be able to play outside again.
I shut off the car and sit there for a moment marveling at how another winter has passed, at how grown-up Lauren is these days. I started hanging out with her when she was just shy of two years old. I thought it would give her mom a little "free" time to do an errand, get dinner going, or even collect her scattered thoughts. I work to remember how we filled an hour of time back then before Lauren could really talk. What did we do? What games did we play? But we did fill the time and happily. Piggy back rides, lots of picking up putting down, silly face making over and over. Everything was over and over. "Do it again. Do it again." became a mantra. I remember holding Lauren upside down and jiggling her around to "shake the sillies" out of her. (We still do this although it's much more tiring with a five year old sized kid.) I remember the beginnings of hide and seek which involved Lauren hiding in the same favorite spot every time. During the summer months one of my favorite ways to spend time together involved pushing her on the swing. Sometimes we'd do this for the entire hour. I had a period of sadness back then that felt overwhelming at times. Swing pushing is surprisingly good therapy.
Lauren is grumpy when I arrive today. She is looking forward to the party this weekend with her five year old friends. I am not five. Her moods are fine with me though, since I'm only there for such a short time. I'm a moody person too and was similarly sensitive and cautious as a child. I think I understand how she feels sometimes. I often wonder how she sees me, what I am to her. I wonder how long and in what manner she'll be a part of my life. What will she remember about these years?
To get Lauren out of her birthday funk we decide to hide the presents I brought and search for them. Over and over. On her turn to hide them she actually puts them places that require me to look. She has become a clever hider.
I can remember the first time she said, "I love you" to me as I left. I remember exactly how her voice sounded and how her face looked and what it felt like to be so emotionally surprised by a child. I remember the first time she told me a joke (I don't remember the joke, but I remember her telling it). She didn't even know yet what "joke" meant but she knew we were all supposed to laugh at what she said. Someday I'd like to tell her about the peace and relief I found during our meandering summer conversations while I pushed her on the swing. I'd like her to know what a treasure it has been to share unstructured time with a child friend.
Before I got out of the car this day I felt awed by the passing of time. The changing of seasons doesn't feel mundane to me anymore, it feels almost ominous. The cycle of the sun is steady and ceaseless. The baby I held only weeks after she popped into the world is a five year old girl in just a few breaths.
I am not immune to the passage of time. No one is.