June 18, 2024 Paige Nolan

Blink and You'll Miss It

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Our family recently traveled to my hometown, New Orleans, to celebrate my dad’s 80th birthday.

We gathered for dinner in a second story private dining room of Arnaud’s Restaurant with a balcony overlooking Bourbon Street. Dad didn’t want a big party, just his sisters, his daughters, and our families.


And the location was important – he wanted his five grandchildren to enjoy the sites and sounds of the French Quarter on a Friday night from the vantage point of a balcony.  It’s a classically New Orleans experience, and my dad is a proud New Orleanian.

There were toasts.  There were songs (this is the way my husband, Boyd, toasts people). And, of course, there was delicious food and bananas foster for dessert.

If I had to describe my dad’s state of being on his birthday night in a word it would be – grateful. And it was not just a count-your-blessings kind of gratitude. I mean he exuded an alive, pulsing thankfulness that animated the entire evening – and activated that same thankfulness within each of us.

We’re in the kitchen the morning after dad’s party and I ask him if there’s any newfound perspective he can offer now that he’s made it 80 years on the planet.

“Blink and you’ll miss it,” he smiles. “It really does go that fast.”

Now, here I am, five days into Myles’ summer break (he is a rising 8th grader) and five days away from Ryan and Mimi’s summer break (they are rising 11th graders) and not only do I find myself slow blinking, but I damn well near have my eyes squeezed shut.

 I want to miss parts of the summer experience – the waves of worry I get witnessing my teenagers’ extended screen time, my splintered focus just knowing someone may need a ride at any minute, the kitchen being in a perpetual state of disarray. (*Why do they eat so much? So often? So late at night? Leaving shit in the sink is not cleaning up after yourself.)

“There're so many times in life,” Dad shares with me on a call a few days after his party, when we’re still talking about all of it, “you just want to be past it. And the times you want to get past become some of the best times of your life.”

Spoken from the perspective of someone who has lived a life true to his values – family, fatherhood, fishing, professional satisfaction + success, enduring marriage, friendliness, sports, and a reverence for the most everyday acts of nature – like a cloud formation, a cardinal outside the kitchen window, a cat stretching in the driveway – and it’s turned out all right.

As someone in the middle, in conversation with myself about prioritizing my values and constantly balancing the extent to which I express which one and to what degree, I appreciate this perspective – and as much as I can embody it, I want to.

It will be all right.

“Do you think it’s possible to understand life at my age in the way you understand it at your age?” I ask him.

“I’m not sure. Is the candy sweeter when there’s few left in the box? You naturally appreciate the days more when you know they’re numbered.”

***

I guess the closest we can come to my dad’s wiser point of view is to number the days – even if you’re not facing your mortality in that confronting way that older people do or people living with a shorter life expectancy diagnosis do. 

Remember that the times you want to get past contain within them days that offer the best times.

That happened to me yesterday with Myles.

He had two of his friends over – they played basketball, took a long bike ride, went swimming, ate Chick-Fil-A for dinner, then went to see the movie Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 in the theater. I picked him up at 11 PM – and when we got home, he wanted to snack (of course!) and I immediately started cleaning the pots in the sink. (Where do they even come from? It’s like teenagers are insatiable, cooking ghosts.)

“That was a good day,” he tells me over a bowl of Brussel sprouts. “I did so much.” 

“I know, right,” I reply. “That was a really good summer day. I love when you’re not on your screen.”

He rolls his eyes. I roll my eyes back at him…about me. Because really? Can I beat a dead horse anymore? It’s so dumb. What does the term “screen time” even mean with teenagers? We both smile.

A minute later when he comes over to deliver his bowl into the sink, he gives me a hug without saying anything.

And you know what it felt like?  It felt like a number.

A finite, singular summer day, maybe even just a moment, that can only happen in the summer, that can be counted as good. Just to hear him laughing with his friends, just to see the fast food paper bags in my trash, just to smell his smelly 13 year old boy sweat after a movie knowing that the only way he got that sweat is by not sitting in the movie for 3 hours, but running running around the mall, just to see it – as it is – is the only thing we can really do to live by the wisdom of our elders.

***

“The party was so special, I’m still thinking about it,” Dad says as we get off of the phone.

“Me too. It was one my most favorite family nights of all time. Everyone was in such good spirits….”

“Well,” dad says, “that’s because no one was blinking.”

***

At the start of this summer, I have a renewed sense of presence to family life inspired by my dad’s birthday. I have an intention to let the good days be even more meaningful in this season. I want to remember the days are numbered, because they are, even when they feel like they’re not.

And when I’m blinking, I’m going to decide that it’s ok to blink. This one is harder for me, but it’s worth it to note. There is no point in wasting precious energy on judging oneself for not being present – as it just adds a layer to overcome on one’s way back to presence. 

After all, blinking is the eye’s natural way of maintaining clear vision.

Happy Summer, y’all!

To the sights and sounds of these first summer days + nights – may you see them well.