Recently my young cousin shared a video of her daughter, just a few months old, playing in her jump-up seat. A jump-up is a child’s contraption which hangs from a door frame, tethered by a sturdy but flexible elastic band. The baby sits, her legs dangling, while she watches the world and enjoys a soothing bouncing motion.
The humor in my cousin’s video was that her daughter, Elizabeth, had discovered that with a little extra effort, the jump-up can take her careening toward the door frames. Although not exactly rappelling off the walls yet, Elizabeth is happily shaking it up. Elizabeth, who has an older sister, seems to be living up to the second-child stereotype: discovering adventure in all things.
It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “The years teach much which the days never knew.” That bit of wisdom certainly applies to parenting. It’s why grandmothers must occasionally be forgiven for offering too much advice: Maybe the framework of years has taught them a few things.
My first child also was an Elizabeth. An easy baby, my Elizabeth was not so much a risk-taking adventurer as a quiet observer. When she was born, someone loaned us a jump-up, but we had an open design house with few door frames, so we threw the jump-up in the closet and forgot about it. Until one night, when all the carpets upstairs were drying from a cleaning, we settled for a card game in a downstairs room that had a door frame.
So we said, hey, let’s try this jump-up thing. Both of us were concentrating on a hand of bridge with the child just a few feet away. What could go wrong, right?
Absorbed in my cards, I casually glanced over to see if Elizabeth was enjoying her bounce. Horrified, I saw her hanging completely upside down in the jump-up. Thankfully, this jump-up must have come with remarkable seat belts, saving my daughter from a fall on the basement floor. Obviously, in a classic first-time parent move, I had somehow gotten the tether tangled.
What was it like, that sudden flip and then the whole world upside down? Elizabeth, not uttering a peep, must have wondered what excitement her clueless parents had in store for her next.
The poet Mary Oliver, in “Percy (Seven),” offers an intriguing but heart-tugging verse: “Ah, this is the thing that comes to each of us. The child grows up.”
It was 30 years ago that my Elizabeth was treated to an upside down world. Where did the years go? But I don’t think it was just children to which Mary Oliver was referring. This is the thing that comes to each of us: change, growth, decline, a journey into marriage and parenting, or to another vocation. A passage into old age, when we cling, no longer to the little boy who gave the best hugs and is now a grown man, but to the memory of that little boy.
In the U.S., we are now entering the season of gratitude, a season we sometimes clutter up with things besides thanksgiving. But our whole lives should be a season of gratitude, especially as we grow older. God has lived through the days of our lives, and God knows what the years have to teach.
We ask to live lives filled with gratitude — for small memories, large ones, good ones and bad — gratitude that God forgives and heals the mistakes each of us made as we struggled through days that were sometimes so close and so intense that the lessons of them would be learned only much later.