A little Vail Pass perspective

The closure of Vail Pass last Thursday night was a family story in that all of those moms and dads stranded on the wrong side of the pass were temporarily cut out of the picture. I was fortunate enough  to have a colleague with a spare room put me up – as he has two other times in the past three years. The experience gave me some additional insight into what a family means, how similar we moms and dads are despite the little differences, and, perhaps first and foremost, the beauty of having a wife who thinks to pack me an overnight bag for just such occasions.

With our youngest now in kindergarten, we’re out of the diapers n’ drooling years of our family (or what my brother-in-law calls the “orifice management” phase), so it was interesting to see Matt and Judy deep in those very youngest of times. Like most parents, they are ideally suited to the job of managing their two little ones – a task that, to an outsider, would appear all but impossible. Sometimes the headlines tell us otherwise, but it never ceases to amaze me how well people adapt to what is the most difficult job on the planet. Usually there’s little or no training involved, and by the time they come home from the hospital, you’ve all but forgotten all that prenatal reading you did, anyway.

Holding a baby when you know you’re done with them yourself is to see the road of life laid bare. We will never travel down the baby highway again, except as grandparents, and it’s a sobering thought to recognize that closed chapter. At the same time, it’s intriguing to see newer parents and the constant wonder at the shared experience they’re having. As Matt says, there’s a lot of goo – an aspect of child-rearing that causes the young and single to recoil in horror. But moms and dads know the goo, while not a pleasant thing to be sought out, is merely a footnote on a story that’s got a lot more pages to it.

Being stuck on the other side of the pass made me again realize how enamored I am with the routine of coming home to my family, swinging into the habitual and taking satisfaction in the simple fact of all being in the same place. I hate not being home at night to read Andy his bedtime story – especially since I know that the years of him needing such are quickly waning. And with the teenagers nearly on deck for college, Jen and I both know every moment spent together is a precious thing that cannot be gotten back. Those moments – good, bad and neutral – cannot be purchased online, replicated on a reality show or even fully realized from photos or video footage. They must be experienced in real time and tucked safely away in our memories. We’ll need them soon enough.

Watching Matt’s toddler learning words, building blocks and pushing the boundaries of her world, I was reminded, vividly, of that time with Andy. It didn’t seem like that long ago, but it’s now close to five years. There’s not enough room in one’s head to encompass all the feelings that come with seeing those tiny babies turn into people. Whether it’s learning to walk, learning to read or learning to drive, parents will always be the ones most amazed at their kids’ accomplishments – no matter how predictable.

Sometimes, in a busy life, it’s not difficult to lose a little focus on just how fleeting all this is, and how critical it is to be present every step of the way. Getting stuck on the wrong side of the pass for a night can bring that focus into sharper detail. Even so, would it be heretical to suggest a week of sunny weather would be a welcome change?

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