I can close my eyes and be back in this afternoon, exactly 7 years ago, June 2005, with baby Whit, 2 year old Grace, and my grandfather, who is no longer with us.
It’s not a secret that I struggled with my entry into motherhood. Grace’s infancy was not my finest hour. I remember large swaths of time as only a blur of tears and a wailing baby that occurred in a permanent twilight that wasn’t day and wasn’t night. But, somehow, I remember with crystalline clarity one comment that I received over and over again from kindly, well-intentioned people, friends and strangers alike:
“Make sure to enjoy this moment. It goes so fast!”
Just like everybody else I know, I heard this more times than I can possibly count. And every single time, through the haze of my exhaustion and despair, I recognized a kernel of truth. This sentence pierced my gloom over and over again. But the truth is it made me want to scream; this is probably because the sentiment cut close to the bone. As with all statements that are uncomfortably true, I did not like hearing it. And I swore to myself I would never tell a mother with a newborn to enjoy this time.
And yet I have. More than once, I’ve looked at a mother with a tiny baby, or a mother with a baby in a Bjorn and a two year old by the hand, dark valleys under her eyes and a slightly wild, exasperated expression, and longed to be back there. The way I express this longing is to say: “Oh, those were the days. They go fast. Enjoy them.”
Every time I kick myself: Ugh, Lindsey, you swore you’d never say that. I can remember vividly my own negative reaction to those comments. But I realize now that the people who said that were just sharing their own nostalgia the only way they knew how.
Even now, aware as I am of not wanting to squander these moments with my children at home, I find myself – daily! – wishing time away. I am sore from the cold bleachers under my legs at soccer try-outs, I am listening to a detailed story about a 2nd grade bus ride that is being told in real time, I am tired myself, just want to get into bed with my own book, and this third glass of water is going to put me over the edge. I have realized this is simply the nature of parenting; the adage that the days are long but the years are short is so powerful precisely because it is true.
I am much better at appreciating my experience than I used to be. There’s no question about that. But even when I really AM there, even when I’m fully open and appreciating all the sights, sounds, smells, and emotions of my particular life with my particular children at this particular moment, it still goes by too fast. And this is the bitter part of my life’s bittersweet core: nothing I do, no paying attention and being here now can slow the drumbeat march of time. No matter how present I am I cannot alter the hasty onrush of this life.
Sometimes that truth feels unbearably bitter. Of course, yes, I do know that it’s bitter in direct proportion to the sweetness. The presence I have worked hard to cultivate over many years has left me with very rich memories of this season of my life. I’m grateful beyond expression for the way this blog has chronicled much of my life with my children. I have thousands of photographs and dozens of letters. But nothing I can do, neither white-knuckled hanging on nor meditative letting go, will make these days and years last longer. I guess when I say the thing I swore I’d never say to new mothers, I’m trying to communicate that. But I should stop, because I know it doesn’t help.
I’m pretty sure that my grandfather, in the photograph above, told me with a sigh that these days would go fast. I know he handed me some notes that my grandmother had written about observing the development of boys (she should know: she had four). But I also know that I probably shook my head, worrying about getting Whit down for a nap and making pasta for Grace, grimaced at the ugly plastic toys in my kitchen, and told him in a way that was both heartfelt and dismissive: I know, I know.
I thought I knew what he meant. But I didn’t. I do now.