Chris and I love to plan for and talk about the future. But whenever we talk about a certain year and what we might be doing then I'm always asking, "So what grades will the kids be in then?" or "How old will we be?" Knowing those things gives me an anchor when peering into the future. Because otherwise all I can see are my 9, 7, and 2 year olds and I just picture myself older but still in the same season of parenting: playground sand dumped from shoes onto the clean floor and a parade of snacks, but also bedtime snuggles with a bath-clean, plump toddler in my lap and kids who spell out "bad" words they aren't allowed to say like D-U-M-B. The hard parts and the sweet parts won't last.
With five different people's ages plus the kids' grades in school to keep track of, I can never commit any of this information to memory. Yet more and more we are thinking of the years ahead as we think about spending time at our Eau Claire house, marvel that middle school is not that far away for the boys, and as Chris and I contemplate professional goals. So just this morning I finally made the handy little spreadsheet I've been wanting. Our life is lived on an academic calendar because of Chris's job as a professor and with the kids being in school. So I decided what would make the most sense to me is using September as the benchmark for how old everyone will be and what grades the kids will be in. Everyone will have started their new school year plus Chris's birthday is in September.
I created this spreadsheet as a new sheet in our master budget spreadsheet which we have in Excel. That way we can easily reference this as we project our finances like when we could take a big family trip but also paying for college and retirement income. In the spreadsheet I created the following columns: September of..., Chris's age, Kelsey's age, Dash age, Dash grade, Cedric age, Cedric grade, Maeve age, Maeve grade, and family notes. Next I filled in all the years, ages, and grades. Then I jotted down some family notes, like when we might spend a semester in Eau Claire, when our big wedding anniversaries are, when my Yale grad school reunions are, and when Chris is eligible for early retirement and then full retirement. Then, looking at the kids' ages I made notes of when we'll be done paying for daycare (woo hoo!) and when we might first try an international trip. Chris noted when we'll have our Gilbert house paid off (we did a 20-year refinance in 2021).
This was an easy spreadsheet to make and really just has years and ages. It took me all of seven minutes. Yet I found myself feeling many emotions while staring at the little rectangles on my screen. I can see when each of the kids will graduate from high school and presumably move out of the house. It feels like a long way away but I can tap the return button quickly several times and we're at Dash's high school graduation in a flash. Eight years in less than a second. At the same time I see all the exciting family fun and adventure that is right around the corner. The everyday kind of fun like we had this weekend when Chris and I worked a puzzle with the boys – look Maeve will be joining us just two rows down! – and the big fun like potential travel.
In parenting (especially right now with three kids which includes a toddler) I find myself often needing to exist completely in the now, whether because I'm trying to be present or because there are so many demands on me that I can only think about what to do in the next minute. But as parents we are also often stepping back to take the long view. We remind ourselves that "these meltdowns/never going to the bathroom alone/refusing to eat any kind of melted cheese is just a phase," and that "surely we won't argue about daily showers forever." This spreadsheet dropped the long view in my lap and made me stop to say, "Ohhh!" As in, "Oh Maeve is going to kindergarten so soon - how??" and "Oh, what can I do with five days of work time each week?" and "Oh, the boys will be teenagers so soon! They were 3 and 5 just yesterday!" and "How are we paying for college, again?" (We have 529s for all three kids and discounted college tuition if Chris remains at ASU but it still feels daunting!)
As we keep talking and dreaming about the future with our family I'm looking forward to adding more ideas and possibilities to this spreadsheet. And maybe I'll remember to open it up when it seems that I'll never again go to the bathroom alone...