Well, it happened. That moment of self-realization as a parent that everyone talks about, and yet still it caught me completely off guard. It was late at night, the rest of the kids were already in bed and I was up with my older two who are now 10 and 11 years old. My son, a sturdy 11-year-old almost-man was on the couch and we were getting silly so I pulled him onto my lap to hug him goodnight. And by pull I mean I dragged, hefted, and strained to lift him up.
By the time I finally held him in my arms, we were both laughing uncontrollably at the fact that he had grown so much (that or I had grown weaker). And then it hit me. One minute I was laughing and saying, “I remember when you were born,” and the next I broke.
I am not much of a cryer you guys, I tend to be goofy and funny or deep in thought with not much in between. These were no gentle, quiet tears… it was a full-out ugly cry and I just couldn’t stop. Hiccuping, shaking, sobbing, the torrent poured out of me, “I can’t even remember the last time I held you!” Looking over at my kids I saw the tears in their eyes as we all realized something both beautiful and tragic… it was gone.
It was over
Holding them in my arms and singing them lullabies, marvelling at their first sounds and coos and laughs, the first steps and dance parties in the living room. The cute little toddler voices and the way they pronounced their words. Falling asleep in my arms, losing their first teeth. Just like that, it was all over and I hadn’t even realized it. I watched it flash before my eyes, the memories both painful and sweet and so many lost memories along the way.
The should haves, the could haves, the might have beens. How often I pushed aside the moment because I was tired or frustrated or overwhelmed. Until the moments are no longer there for the taking and all I have are the memories.
How can I be both so proud of who they are becoming and yet be so heartbroken at what we’ve left behind? It’s over half done! I can never go back. I’ve made so many mistakes, and as I looked into their eyes and saw nothing but future, I was so so sad.
They are not little anymore. Sure, they aren’t adults, I still have time with my kids. And yet they are their own little people with their own personalities and preferences and struggles and wants. The shaping years are primarily behind us and everything that stands in front of us is independence.
Time is running out.
My youngest is already five. I have no second chances. There will be no more baby snuggles or baby smell, no more adorable first words or falling asleep in my arms. The stage has been set, and like it or not, the play continues to go forward.
As I sit here writing, tears streaming down my face, I feel like a piece of ice floating in the middle of the ocean. I cannot salvage or change the past and I don’t know what the future holds.
Here’s the thing
In this life, we get tired. We make mistakes, we don’t value what we have until it is gone. I had heard the warnings, I had read the articles of mothers before me who had had this moment for themselves. But the reality is, we are all trying our best to survive the chaos, to trudge our way through the mud of the everyday struggles. We can only do what we can do.
So to the mothers after me, still in the midst of babies and toddlers and preschool chaos, take a deep breath. There are so many things vying for your attention. Your house will never stop calling to you, there will always be distractions and busyness. Some of it is necessary, unescapable. All you can do now is treasure the moments. Not all the moments, we can never fully see the beauty of today until tomorrow. It is the way of humanity.
Instead, slow down just a little, write down a few of those memories, capture them in your heart, store them up. You will have regrets, you will have your own day just like mine, but as you continue to walk forward you will remember the times you marvelled at your kids. You will remember the times that you stopped looking at your phone and took in their enthusiastic explanations. You will remember the way they looked into your eyes while you nursed them or played with your hair while you snuggled with them.
These memories will be your treasure and your pain. So incredibly priceless and beyond value because of their rarity… because they are gone forever.
Slow down, take time