"You don't really appreciate what you've got until it's gone."
These wise words came out of the mouth of my 16-year-old son; surprisingly, he wasn't referring to a Snicker's bar. I've always known he is an old soul, but this particular insight was unexpected. Typically teenage boys are consumed by thoughts of driver's licenses, (girls), the Friday night football game, (girls) and food. Lots and lots of food.
Time for reflection and philosophical epiphanies are best left to old people - you know, those 30 and above. People like your mom. Or teachers. So I thought. Shows you what I (don't) know.
When I found teenage boys living in my house, I entered at my own risk, with both eyes wide open. I figured I knew what was coming: growth spurts that left them gawky and gangly and a whole lot taller than their mom. I anticipated broken windows, broken furniture and maybe even a broken heart or two. I expected big feet and even bigger appetites, a need for speed and the car keys. I understood we'd deal with missed curfews, missing homework, messy bedrooms and resigned myself to the fact that they'd stay up late and sleep in even later.
While the teenage years have brought all these gifts to our household, they've also come with a few surprises. Like when they jump up from a video game to help their mom carry in the groceries, or pull the empty garbage can up from the curb without being asked, or give an unexpected hug - in public, even.
And, most definitely when, during an ordinary five-minute car ride to school, they wax philosophical about the fleeting nature of time. When my boys became teenagers, I expected deep voices, not deep thoughts.
It took me way past 30-something to even begin to comprehend the transitory nature of life. I am embarrassingly obtuse about the most simple and obvious - it has something to do with the whole forest for the trees thing.
When our daughter was 9 months old, we took her to a photographer to have her portrait taken. Our little sweet pea was a serious baby, and refused all our outrageous and desperate attempts to make her smile. Even my husband's over-the-top Elmo impression failed to register on the laugh-o-meter. She had a somber pout in every shot.
So I declined to purchase any photos.
Now, I think back, and wish I had. You see, she was 9 months old then, and that lasted only a moment before it was gone. Because I didn't understand that simple concept, I lost the solemn expression that would have made for a fond memory - as well as an 8 x 10 framed print.
I've since evolved. I understand our days, weeks and years are made up of moments, and moments - perfect, imperfect and everything in between - are the biggest and best that we've got.
Right now I spend quite all few of mine with teenage boys in the car on the way to school or football practice. When they talk, I listen. Sometimes what they say surprises me - in a good way, usually. But, don't tell them I told you so. I still want them to feel compelled to help carry in the groceries.
My son says you don't really appreciate what you've got until it's gone, and I realize he is probably right - most of the time. But as we arrive at school, and he exits the car and turns to say "goodbye," and then, "I love you, Mom," I think I do. I really think I do.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, playwright and author of "The Do-It-Yourselfer's Guide to Self-Syndication" You can read more columns at the Slices of Life page on Facebook.