Kelly Friedman and her son, Ben Smith, grandson of columnist Dolly Merritt, walk down the path to Flagler College in St. Augustine, Fla.
Kelly Friedman and her son, Ben Smith, grandson of columnist Dolly Merritt, walk down the path to Flagler College in St. Augustine, Fla. (Courtesy Photo)

Milestones. They keep rolling along like an Amtrak train speeding toward its destinations, while I, as a passenger, try to slow down the passing scenery.

I’ve lived long enough to embrace my children’s first tooth; first step; and first days of kindergarten, elementary, middle and high school, followed, ultimately, by their graduations. Next, they were off to college, then marriage and parenthood and our lives became immersed in another round of “firsts,” experienced by our two grandsons.

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Today, as I write this column, I’m feeling a bittersweet tug of emotion ever since my younger grandson, Ben, left the proverbial nest to attend college in St. Augustine, Florida. The “bitter” part is the finalization of his childhood; the “sweet” is our hopes for his bright future — the same feelings I experienced when our older grandson, Zack, moved to San Diego. As a matter of fact, I continue to carry that bittersweet emotion, missing him (thank goodness for smartphones and visits), but joyful for his successful lifestyle there.

And now, there’s Ben. Memories whirl through my brain such as the garden stepping stone we made with his embedded chubby hand print when he was 5 years old. I wanted to make one just like the stone Zack and his mom had made for me when he was 5. Both — small monuments to their childhood — are in my garden.

I laugh every time I see the photo of the board my husband (Pop-Pop) constructed (not a carpenter) on which was nailed a conglomeration of items such as a light switch, deadbolt lock, and screw-in receptacle — things that our fascinated 3-year-old grandson could pull, twist and prod.

The scenes in my head continue just like the photos in our digital photo frame — given to me as a present — that sits in my office. When I am writing, between thoughts, I glance at the family images that change about every six seconds and I’m surprised to see how much our grandsons have grown since then. Though it seems that about two years have passed since I received that present, I just calculated that it’s been 10 years ago and I’ve never gotten around to changing the pictures inside the frame. I don’t think I ever will.

As my grandsons have put away the childish things of their youth, I’ve had the pleasure of observing other grandparents in my neighborhood, at the mall, and while eating lunch at Panera Bread. I see their pride as they experience the joys my husband and I have had with our grandsons and I’ve got to admit that I miss the time we spent with them when they were babies, children, and even young teens.

As a matter of fact, when Zack was 12, we took him to a water park and immersed ourselves in sliding waterways and climbed cliff-like stairs, holding inner tubes — ignoring my aversion to heights — in order to provide what we expected to be one of the last grandparent-grandson expeditions as he neared his teen years.

When Ben approached adolescence, we continued our visits to southern Maryland where my daughter and son-in-law live and enjoyed our time with him — often fishing and visiting the Calvert Marine Museum in a “last-blast” attempt to capture more time before Ben entered full-fledged teendom.

Making memories, however, has been a life process for all of us. The saying, “What goes around, comes around,” reminds me of our daughter who is determined to keep “a stiff upper lip” while she sees her only child off to the path of adulthood. (Another memory: Our house — once alive with teen voices and a ringing phone — became too quiet when she left for college, joining her brother who was two years ahead of her.)

So here we are at the end of Ben’s cycle of childhood, as he is launched into his next cycle — adulthood.

As Ben acclimates to college and experiences more “firsts,” my bittersweet tug of emotion will subside — that is, until he graduates, ready to tackle the next phase of his life that could include a career, marriage and parenthood.

Milestones. They keep rolling along.

Dolly Merritt writes from Westminster. Her Prime column appears on the third Sunday of the month.

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