My, my, how times change. It seems like just yesterday that I was holding my newborn first nephew, Daniel.
In actuality, just yesterday (the 30th as of this writing), he turned 18.
Wow. Just ... wow.
I have to say, I'm glad I'm not in his shoes -- not to mention his 6 feet, 7 inches of height -- or in the place of any of my nieces and nephews or their generation.
They won't know the difference, but I think paying for college and going for their higher education will be harder for them than it was "back in my day." Costs are so ridiculously high.
Danny is going to Evansville, Ind., to study mechanical engineering. Obviously, he's smarter than his journalist aunt, and he'll make lots more money, too.
But I found it interesting that he's one of thousands upon thousands of Illinois students going out of state for college. I read and cover this kind of news all the time, and occasionally live it via my own family and friends.
It's a banner year in my family. Danny is 18, and three of the kids -- his sister Isabel and his cousins Cooper and Stephanie -- all turn 16. Jack is going to be 17. The rest are Olivia, soon to be 14; Tyler, turning 13 in the fall; and Grace, who just turned 11.
These milestones just keep coming. I have to resist the urge to put bricks on the kids' heads to keep them from growing up so fast.
Having just one, Jack, get his driver's license last year was enough. Having three of them in one year driving on their own really makes me reflect.
I think they're all good drivers or will be. I wonder, however, if we should be concerned about Stephanie.
She was driving her cousins' go-cart one time with Isabel as a passenger, and the veered to one side of the yard near the street and hit a stop sign on a wooden pole.
It was like watching it in slow motion: The go-cart headed toward the stop sign; hit it and was stopped abruptly; and the pole broke and the sign fell ... right in between the two girls on the go-cart, harming neither of them whatsoever.
Steph likes to hit the go-cart track. The year that I gave the kids each a coupon for a "fun outing with Aunt Penny" of their choice, she picked a trip to the go-cart place. She totally left me in the dust, winning by quite a bit.
She and her brother, Tyler, are always up to mischief and pranks. They are a hoot and a half. That Tyler -- he's got a personality all his own.
He was working on a jigsaw puzzle with his mom recently, and they got down to the end and appeared to have one missing piece. His mom must have lamented that they went to all that work just to not be able to finish the puzzle.
Nope! He declared they did have the last piece -- he had hidden one piece, set it aside so that he could be the one to place that last piece.
What a kid!
It's interesting to see, as they grow up, how they reflect and handle more adult issues. Politics are one example. Some of them mirror their parents' feelings and do or do not like President Donald Trump, for example, while others diverge from what some adults in their life think and have their own opinions.
While I miss the days when they were toddlers -- what fun we had! -- I enjoy talking to them as teens now too. They have more grown-up problems, like conflicts with friends and sometimes struggles with school.
Some of them get excellent grades and study hard; others find school "boring" and aren't getting such good marks in their classes. I see some of them getting poor grades and know that they are smart enough -- they just aren't putting in the work.
I don't know just how their parents feel in trying to motivate them, and trying to get them to think ahead and realize just how important a good high school education is as a springboard to their future, but even I as an aunt feel the struggle a bit. I try to encourage them and tell them stories about people I know who are successful versus those who don't put in the effort and get stuck in rotten jobs.
No longer are there fights over one kid taking another's favorite stuffed animal, or joyful running around because someone got balloons for his birthday. Now it's emotional tears over one sibling allegedly laughing at another and hurting that sibling's feelings. Now I hear, "I'm staying single" from Isabel, and "My girlfriend is on the other line" when I talk to Cooper on the phone.
Olivia is a voracious reader, and she's devouring books that might test an adult's attention and brain power. Grace is no longer a little girl but almost a pre-teen, with a sassy attitude (in a good manner) and a way of standing up for herself that makes me proud. Of course, growing up with two older brothers kind of necessitates that.
Jack is staying out late and working his first job. He's yet to decide what career path he might take ... pretty typical for a lot of teens, I think. With a few years yet to decide, Tyler has several career choices in mind, as does Grace, who also has plenty of time to consider her options.
Stephanie, on the other hand, has always wanted to be a teacher, and she hasn't changed her mind yet. I think she'll be a natural.
Before long, it'll be the year that three of the nieces and nephews turn 18, and Danny graduating from college, and we'll all be two years older ... but will we be wiser?
Kids grow up fast, and life is short.
After a dear friend had a heart issue recently, I was reminded of just how short life can be. So don't dilly dally around if you want to do something. Don't put it on a "bucket list." Get it done.
Before you know it, you'll be 18 years older, too, and you can either have done something with that time or be nearly two decades more into your life and standing practically in the same place in the universe.
Some of it is chance, and a lot of it is choice.
It's up to you. Get out there and do some living, instead of letting life just happen to you.
Now. Who's for dessert before dinner?