EightWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
Each summer, our family travels to South Florida to spend a week with my brother’s family. As my brother’s mid-June birthday is within a few days of the birthdays of my sons Evan, 8, and Sean, 6, we use some of the time to celebrate. Part of that is an annual photo of the boys, taken at the JCPenney portrait studio at Aventura Mall.
Watching the progress of our boys from infants to pre-preteens via photo is exhilarating and unnerving. Film doesn’t lie, and the speed with which our sons are growing up is a powerful illustration of how quickly time melts away. It was particularly startling this year, when Evan’s solo portrait revealed a hard glimpse into what he will look like as a young man many years from now. It was jarring to see that glimpse into the future, to see how his features will mature and evolve.
I can’t explain it with any intellectual clarity, but I had an adverse, borderline nauseating response to seeing him projected so grown up so soon. It feels like just a few days ago when we brought him home from the hospital, wrapped in his birthing blanket, a tiny, helpless, crying baby 100 percent dependent on us for every mode of survival.
To see Evan and Sean grow is to understand how little influence we have on time and its impact on the circle of life.
During this June’s trip to South Florida, we took the boys on two wildlife adventures. Our first excursion was an airboat tour of the Everglades. I have been deep into the Glades a number of times but did not want to take the boys until I felt they were ready to follow the safety precautions and handle the sight of dozens of massive alligators swimming within chomping distance.
The Glades is one of the most peaceful places I have ever been. The air is humid and heavy; the sawgrass, swamp plants and trees look they were imported from another world; and the birds soar from perch to perch with no awareness of powerlines, utility poles and the signature violations mankind uses to pound wilderness into submission.
We witnessed a true “Wild Kingdom” moment when a large turtle ambling near the boat was suddenly snapped up and taken underwater by an alligator that did not seem to care he was being watched by a number of kids.
Having conquered the Glades, we later took the boys on another wildlife excursion — to Chuck E. Cheese for a birthday lunch. I did not check into it, but I wonder if Penn National Gaming owns Chuck E. Cheese as it owns Hollywood Casino Toledo. The Chuck is a perfect training ground for future casino patrons: It is loud, pulses with flashing lights and runs on the rhythm of people feeding coins in machines hoping to turn their token-by-token investment into a pile of winnings.
After their pizza lunch, we walked the boys around the games, letting them pump tokens into machines that required various feats of “skill” to win tickets that could be traded in for prizes. Evan loves rolling the solid brown ball into the skee ball targets, and as he did so, three much younger children strolled up and began taking his game balls from the tray and trying to snatch his tickets. I started to intervene but held back to see how Evan would handle the intrusion. I was proud of Evan as he not only calmly retrieved his tickets and game balls but reached into his pocket and gave each of the little kids a token so they could go on their own way. I smiled but did not say anything as Evan immediately went back to trying to turn $20 in tokens into $3 in prizes.
As we neared the end of our time at Chuck E. Cheese, Sean, out of tokens, approached Evan and asked for a few of his. Evan shook his head and said no.
“Now, why would you give those strangers a token but not share with your brother?” I asked.
Evan, who seemed surprised I knew about the incident, said, “It looked like they didn’t have any but Sean had as many as I did and it’s not my fault he used them all.”
There was a swirl of warm empathy and cold logic to his thinking, and I had to fight to keep from smiling as I admonished Evan to share a few token tokens with Sean.
As we herded the boys toward the door, the image of Evan in his from-the-future photo and his sophisticated token-handling combined to give me that odd sense of unease at how fast he and his brother are growing up.
I can’t wait to see the men they will become, but I’m not ready to let go of the little boys they are.
Which shows their old man may have some growing up of his own left to do.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and news director for Newsradio 1370 WSPD. Email him at email@example.com.