It happens at least once a week. I’m in the middle of parenting chaos, exhaustedly chasing a child through a building somewhere and an older woman will turn to me, with a sigh and a tear in her eye, and say, “Enjoy it while you can. They grow so fast.”
And then I smile and say, “I know; I can’t believe how fast it’s gone already!”
But that’s my polite response. My real response, the one I’d never be brave enough to say out loud is: “You’re ruining this for me!”
Poof! It’s gone.
It’s this strange part of being human – once you point out how important a moment is, it’s gone.
I have this memory of my kids jumping on my bed and climbing all over me. We all tumbled back onto the soft mattress and I held them tight while they squealed with delight and squiggled to free themselves. Out of nowhere, this quiet voice in my head whispered, “Don’t let go. Don’t ever let go.” And just then I physically could not hold them any more. They squirmed free and climbed around me, laughing and playing. Just when I realized how important the moment was, it was gone. I couldn’t get it back.
I have listened to so many of these well-intentioned women, in the moment and later in my memory. They plead with me to enjoy it while they’re little. But the problem is, from the moment I realize that I should be enjoying this memory-making moment, it becomes just that – a memory. I become nostalgic for the moment I am living in — the one happening right now.
There have been so many moments I have watched my husband playing with our children, seeing what an incredible father he is, and I instantly feel like an old woman remembering this moment, instead of the young mother I am who is actually living it.
With good intentions, we keep repeating the same words
These lovely well-intentioned women, I wish there was a gentle and kind way I could help them to see that as soon as they say, “Believe it or not, you’ll miss this one day,” that I actually begin feeling the “missing” right then and there. It’s like an iridescent bubble floating through the air. You can simply gaze in wonder at its beautiful swirling patterns riding along the invisible breeze. But, as soon as soon as you reach out to touch it, poof, it’s gone. Just like that. Moments turn to memories. Poof. Just like that.
I find myself doing it too when I spout nonsense advice at my little sister. I tell her things like, “Travel now. Go out now. Date a lot. Live a lot. Do everything; see everything. Hurry before you become tied down, like me.” But of course that’s not how life works at all. She has to live the life she’s living. Including going home when she’s tired, saving her money, dating only those people she wants to. She can’t just do everything and see everything because someone suggested it.
And so it is with my kids. I can’t just “enjoy it while I can” because someone said so. I have to be with my children right now. If I acknowledge it, then – poof – it’s gone. Instead, I’ll try not to focus. I’ll try to just be.
If you could get even one hour of their childhood back
Once, I was changing my son’s diaper in a synagogue bathroom and he was squealing and crying. My friend’s mother came in and sighed and shook her head lightly. She told me a story about when her three girls were little. She had just had enough one night so she went around the house, changing all the clocks forward an hour, and then announced, “Time for bed!” We laughed together about her memory. And then she looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “You know, now that I’m older, I’d do anything to get that one hour back.”
I cry every time I remember that story or retell it to others. It’s not my story. But, it is. It is every mother’s story. We’re fighting so hard to make it through every little minute. But when we turn and look around, we want all the minutes back.
Keep them tight in your memory. Don’t let them go.
I know I’ll be spouting this nonsensical advice at young mothers one day in decades to come. I’ll look at that mom covered in unidentifiable mess – the one with loud energetic children, carrying too many bags, probably trying to get everyone strapped into a car seat or stroller or shopping cart or some other torture device, who just looks like she needs a quiet place to sit with her feet up for a few minutes – I’ll see her exhaustion and say, “Enjoy it while they’re little. You won’t believe how much you’ll miss this.”
I won’t say it to her because I think it will help her. I’ll say it because it will help me. Because acknowledging my own sadness will make me feel better about the little ones who’ve grown and left the nest.
But maybe she’ll be wiser than me. Maybe she’ll be thoughtful and understanding. Maybe she’ll look kindly at me and say, “Yours are still little, too. Don’t be afraid of the sadness. Keep them tight in your memory. Don’t let them go.”
Ordinary Days, Meaningful Life is a labor of love geared toward working moms ready to embrace the chaos and find meaning in it. If you found this post meaningful, please share it with someone you think would enjoy it too! I’d love to stay in touch with you! Leave a comment below, contact me, or sign up for the mailing list. I can’t wait to hear from you!