*Names have been changed to protect privacy*
I don’t have any more macaroni necklaces hanging in my jewelry box. My kids have long outgrown handprint art for Mother’s Day. Is it acceptable for me to make handprint art for Middle Daughter’s 18th birthday or for her graduation?
Milestone birthdays have a way of making me feel reflective. And nostalgic. And a bit overwhelmed. I see younger versions of my kids in every baby, toddler, or six-year-old that cross my path. I love talking with these kids, not because I want to go back to those years, but because I love remembering how kids see the world. Even though my kids are teens and beyond, even though they’ve changed so much, little kids in general are mostly still the same.
I see our little neighbors, Catie* and Cori*, approximately aged 6 and 3 several times a week. They are just about the same age difference as my daughters. When I’m out walking my dog, they’re waiting for Catie’s bus. As I approach, Catie runs down the driveway to say hi to me, she puts her arms out and opens her mouth and lets the sound flow out, her voice vibrating as her feet flop down on the pavement. They both smile and wave. Then they share with me their game of pretend (this week Catie was pretending to be a zombie and told me how she scared Cori. And Cori nodded with wide eyes as if remembering that exact moment.) They’re exuberant and enthusiastic and sometimes (a lot of times) they talk over each other. I laugh and nod as I try to look them each in the eyes and carry on two conversations at once.
As I walk away, the girls run loud circles in the driveway, back to whatever game they were playing. The fifteen minutes before the school bus comes can be an infinite amount of time for pretend and fairytales. I doubt they’ll even remember our interaction by dinnertime.
But I will. I do. Each time I meet up with them, they bring the biggest smile to my face.
My youngest baby is 13 now. So far from needing me to wait with him at a bus stop. Far from immersing himself in pretend play. Fifteen minutes is no longer an infinite amount of time for playing any game he wants. It is an annoying wait time, or rather more realistically, a scroll through social media.
I don’t really long to relive to those times, when they were so little and needing me all the time. But I do wonder, did I appreciate that time enough? Did I soak up enough sunny days outside with them? …listening to them make up games that would last for hours, using only jump ropes and hula hoops… Did I laugh enough with them? Did I smell their little baby and toddler heads enough? Is that imprinted in my brain? I’m terrified of losing that smell, or even losing the memory of that smell… Did I put aside my worries of “who’s going to clean up this mess” so I could just revel in their NOW?
No one is truly present like kids are. I think that’s one of the reasons I loved teaching so much. It was a joy to watch and be with them in their play, to witness them create and learn to interact and connect with each other.
I hope my kids remember more of the days that I didn’t worry about the mess, the days I let them keep their Lego village set up in the living room for a week, even though I would almost trip on the structures daily. I hope they remember the blanket forts they’d set up and how much fun they had bringing ALL the play food into the space so they could “camp out.”
When my kids were little, well-meaning relatives and even strangers would tell me, “Oh enjoy every moment when they’re little! They grow up so fast!” I had a hard time mustering the enthusiasm to match their good wishes. And I was usually too tired to think about why. And then I’d feel guilty for not “enjoying every moment.” What was wrong with me??
I know it was said with the very best of intentions, but it mostly had the opposite effect on me. Most of the time I was just trying to survive the day. I would smile a smile that didn’t quite reach my eyes, and nod, forcing an “I know!” from my lips.
Moms of young children are sleep deprived, over-worked, and low on patience. But always full of love. Even if we look like we’re going to burst into tears at any given moment (we probably just did- we’re good at hiding that) and we haven’t showered in… oh, who knows how long… The love is always there.
We don’t want to be told to “enjoy every moment.” We’re trying. And we do. Love and enjoy them, of course. God (and all the neighbors) knows we do, especially when the windows are open. Those words rarely have the intended effect. The unintended effect is more often a steaming pile of guilt with a side of annoyance. I know I should be enjoying every minute, you don’t need to tell me that. What you don’t know is that I got 4 hours of interrupted sleep last night because one of my cherubs kept waking me up because of nightmares, and I’m fresh off a tantrum in aisle 5 because I wouldn’t buy the Summer Swim Barbie on the end cap. I’m having trouble enjoying these moments, if you must know.
I wish I could go back for one reason. I would tell my younger self, “I see you. I see you doing the very best you can do. I know you are tired to your bones, to your very soul, and that’s ok. Whatever you’re feeling, it’s ok…It’s okay to not be able to enjoy every minute. Every minute is too overwhelming and sometimes just so damn hard. If you can find even just two minutes each day to breathe in deeply and slowly… to look at your incredible kids and what they are doing at this very moment- don’t worry about your to-do list or the mess. But for two minutes breathe in where and how they are in this life, in this time and in this space.”
Every day. Just for two minutes. Not all the minutes. Just two.
Those two minutes add up. Boy do they add up quickly.
To all the moms out there, I see you. Whatever you’re feeling is OK. We are all going to be OK.