The passage of time is not a Kodak moment

Every year as school ends, I feel a little sentimental. One more milestone in my daughters’ lives, another notch on their backpacks, another year closer to their college departures. I’m certainly able to anticipate and enjoy their transitions, one finishing seventh grade, the other 10th, but I’m conscious of how many endings occur without notice, only later recognizing a special moment passed me by.

School is easy. I know nearly a year in advance when the last day will be so I can have a camera ready. But I couldn’t tell you the last time I held my younger daughter’s hand to cross a street. I thought of this the other day when we were in Manhattan, heading to a doctor’s office and my eldest took my hand as we walked down the street. The feeling was so familiar, having held her hand often when it was much smaller, dirtier, weaker. I couldn’t remember when we stopped the routine, but knew it had been years. Now her hand is nearly as big as mine, hardly recognizable as my child’s.

Some changes are momentous and can’t be missed — leaving the crib for a bed, learning to ride bikes in Cadman Plaza without the training wheels. But most changes just happen.

I like to think I’m present in the moments I’m with my girls, enjoying both the special activities, like going to Citi Field each summer, and the everyday things like talking about movies at the video store or cooking pancakes together on weekend mornings.

Yet so much is missed; only in looking back at the sweep of a month or a year, do I recognize what’s happened. It’s like the age-old phenomenon that I don’t notice my daughters getting taller because I see them each day, but their grandparents notice immediately, identifying the change that has escaped my sight.

Of course being a parent is about the minutiae of living, getting them dressed, fed and off to school, making sure the laundry and the homework is done, that they’ve made it to soccer or gymnastics practice on time and with a hair tie.

Events and performances often provide a moment to sit back and take notice. My older daughter took singing at school this year and would practice in her room, door closed, often when I walked the dog it seemed. Watching her class’s concerts was so fun, to hear the changes and the progress, the results of her efforts.

Her growth as a person is even more remarkable, as she’s come to own Brooklyn and Manhattan for herself, the subways, stores and neighborhoods, meeting friends for meals and movies. When did that happen? How did she get so grown up?

I took my younger daughter camp shopping last weekend and was relegated to a corner with a book while she perused the racks and aisles, coming to me only when it was time to pull out the plastic. I used to get to help pick and choose clothes, confirm sizes and express opinions on colors. When did that end? I couldn’t tell you.

It’s not about being too busy to notice or always distracted with e-mail and phone calls. I know I was there the last time I walked my older daughter to school, carrying instruments and talking about the day ahead as we walked down Monroe Place, until I was dismissed at the corner so her friends wouldn’t see me. The next day, she probably said she couldn’t wait for me and went off on her own. And that was it.

Even standing here, watching, life moves on and their childhoods fly by. Eighth grade and 11th Grade begin on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011 and end on June 12, 2012. I’ll be there, camera in hand, but so much will happen in between and I just won’t realize their worlds are changing until they already have.