I’m a mom. I get advice—a lot of it. There was a time when I was a first-time mom, and I solicited it quite often. I didn’t care who they were. If they had something to say, they had my ear. Truth be told, even after my third, I still seek it out (though I’m perhaps more selective in what I take away).
I mean, this mom thing? It’s hard. It’s unpredictable. I would even say it can take you to the brink and back. And this tribe thing? It is real. It’s powerful. And when it comes without judgment, it’s a blessing for a tired mama who thinks she’s found her limits.
But that’s not the advice I’m here to talk about. I’m talking about the random people who come up to me in Target (because yeah, I go there) or stop me on the sidewalk or see me with my little people pretty much anywhere in public and proceed to warn me that it all goes by so fast, so I’d better live it up. That I’m in the midst of the best days but the fastest days. And you know what? I’m going to add to this list all those memes out there with the fancy script and an image of a sunset and a mother and child walking hand in hand, leaving footprints fading into the wet sand.
The thing is, I get the point, and I know it’s probably a valid one. But this warning has been my constant dark cloud companion for the past six years. When I was a working mother, it ate at me, and this was when I only had two littles. What was I missing them doing? What didn’t I see? Why was I here when they were there? They were never going to be this age again.
I felt I had to soak it all in. Every. Last. Second. Because it was all going by so fast. Everyone I met along my journeys reminded me of this. I frantically fought to remember everything. Not just firsts. Everything.
What was her 12th word? When did she stop eating strawberries while she sat on the kitchen floor every morning? What was on his feet when he took his first step? How does he smell when he comes in from outside?
And then there was the constant need to do work at home. As a teacher, most of my time spent dealing with work was out of the classroom, prepping and grading in my own home. But how could I do that? How could I sit at home looking at something other than the sweet round cheeks of my little people? This was the last day they’d be this young. Their voices were changing, and what if I could no longer hear their baby sounds in my head?
Soak it in; I’d tell myself, soak in every last inch. So, it was only after bedtime, when the house was silent, that I would let myself sit for hours getting prepared for students and grading papers, bucking the notion that I should “sleep when the baby sleeps.”
When we found out we were about to have our third little love, my husband and I decided to shake things up and try something new. For a thousand different reasons, we decided I’d leave a job doing what I love and stay home with our brood. I wasn’t upset. I thought I’d finally be able to leave that constant guilt at not staring at my children with a camera-like eye. I was sure that the regular sense that I was racing time would go away. But it simply didn’t. The work changed, but I still had and needed, I would shamefully say, time off. The difference is that “time away” is merely a focus on dinner or gathering toys.
With three children, I don’t have four eyes to keep one on each child and the other on a simmering pot. Someone has to clean the bathroom and, as we’ve all been told, dishes don’t wash themselves. Staying home meant keeping myself busy with kids and attempts to justify my existence with cleaning, errand running, cooking…By the same advice-givers aforementioned, it’s been mentioned that I should abandon all these tasks and spend some time chasing little people pretending I’m a kissing monster or building tracks and having car races. I should play with dolls and pretend to be a turtle. The thing is, I do. But I can’t do it all the time. Because part of taking care of my little people is making sure their feet aren’t covered in last night’s dinner and dust.
It also means holding on to the bit of my self staying home with my children has asked me to abandon to a degree. This brings me to my next point: sometimes, I don’t want to play with dolls or be a turtle. Instead, I’d like to be a grown-up who enjoys an entire cup of coffee without reheating it 4 million times before noon.
Some days, I want to linger in the kitchen, “doing dishes” for 10 minutes longer than necessary. I want to turn on the TV when my little people haven’t asked for it so that I can hear my own thoughts. I want to watch the news to talk to another adult about current events (JK, I rarely see another adult that doesn’t involve play dates).
And on these days, when I’ve picked at least 17 unmatched, dirty socks from the couch cushions and sticky spots dot my kitchen floor, having someone then tell me to soak it all in, it’ll all be gone in the blink of an eye, made me feel like the most selfish, neglectful, thankless mother that ever had children. Because these days, I felt ready to leave “these days” behind.
How, I used to wonder, had I given up these precious minutes, the best minutes of my life (I am told), the minutes that slip by so quickly, to merely breathing? I felt I must soon round my little people up and make some insta-memory of kisses and catches. Quick. Act fast. Figure it out. I could literally feel time sliding through my chest. There has to be something meaningful to do, some memory to be had.
This advice made my heart race, like when a deadline is approaching, and I’ve forgotten to do the assignment entirely. But then, when I found myself wasting time worrying about whether I was enjoying and memorizing every last sweet mispronounced word or a new favorite book, this advice started troubling me, frustrating me. Angering me even.
I could never figure out what bothered me so much about this well-intentioned utterance. “Enjoy it; it’ll be gone before you know it.” Then one day, dragging a cartful of whining kids, cat food, and toilet paper around Target, it hit me. Today is not the day to tell me to “Enjoy it.” No one would “enjoy” this. And there is no reason for, unintentionally perhaps, making me feel guilty about the fact that I would, in a heartbeat, drop these kids off at a grandparent’s house for an hour or two, get an actual shower, and curl up with a real, grown-up book if I could. Anyone would.
So advice-givers of the world: That’s it. I’ve hit my limit.
I’m six years in now, and I think I can toss this advice, this warning, aside. I know it goes fast, and as far as enjoying it while it lasts goes, I will. I will enjoy those times when we snuggle at bedtime, but I won’t feel shame for wishing they’d fall asleep already. I will enjoy chatting with them in the car about their days, but I’ll also enjoy turning my own music on when they put on their headphones and watch the movie we play. I will enjoy pretending to be a turtle, and I’ll also enjoy saying that Mommy’s time as a turtle has come to an end. Nothing will make me appreciate all the laundry, the wasted dinners, or failed potty training attempts. And, I expect, in time, those are the things I’ll start to forget first. I am ok with that.
I know that I will lose other bits and pieces I’ve neglected to write down here or there, but I now see this as necessary because there are more memories to come, and this warning fails to remind parents of that. These days of having little ones at home, crawling about my feet, pawing at my legs and arms, at me, is something I am going to miss, but there is nothing I can do to stop that. That’s what life is. It is missing what’s behind you.
In each stage I’ve ever been in, I’ve been told it’s “the best days of my life.” High school was a drag, though I was told “best days of my life.” And then I left. Now that I’m gone, I do miss those days of mayhem and contained freedom. Do I want them back, though? Of course not. I’m ok with right now. Sure, at times, I yearn for the freedom of life before my little people, the ability to decide last minute to stop by a restaurant for a drink while walking home from work. Would I change it? Would I go back to that life? Not for anything on this Earth or beyond.
I choose right now. Right here. Surrounded by this chaos.
I’ve figured out that my life has continuously come with the warning that I have been living in the best days and years of my life, implying it only gets worse from here. But I don’t accept that. It’s gotten different. Quite different, but never worse. We always want what we can’t have, and that’s the past. But I still have a future with these little people. And in its own way, that future will also be the best.
So, for now, I will take what moments I can with my little people. But I will also reject the guilt of not believing every moment of this stage to be utter bliss that I somehow have to be a 100% participant in. I’m done with the worry that I won’t remember every moment. I’m done with the guilt of not wanting to remember every moment.