“Cherish this. Enjoy every moment. It goes so fast.” How many new mamas have heard this, over and over? They were words I resented. I’d silently seethe at the way that age had made mothers nostalgic, knowing that cherishing every moment was simply impossible. I’d had two babies in two years. Most of my moments in the day-to-day involved at least one person crying (me, as often as not) and body fluids of one sort or another on my clothing or in my hair. Exhaustion was a constant; so was laundry. I had a non-stop toddler with food allergies that necessitated making every bite he ate from scratch. I had an infant who had only two modes – screaming, or asleep from having exhausted himself screaming. The highlight of my day was walking to the mailbox. Cherish every moment? You’ve gotta be kidding. What I would really cherish is a nap, by myself, for three hours, without waking up having been peed on.
My mantra for survival was “this too shall pass.” The endless diapers, the toddler tantrums, the sleep deprivation, the toys on the floor from one end of the house to the other, the laundry, the soaked bathroom floor – all parts of my daily life that were merely tolerated. Knowing that they would one day end was the only thought that would get me through without screaming at anyone – most of the time, anyway.
There were memorable sweet things, to be sure. I captured all I could in pictures. Occasionally I wrote them down in journals that my sons now treasure. I knew that the time would come when all I that I could now recall so easily would be far enough into the past that I’d appreciate the reminder. I could see in my boys, even then, the personalities that would emerge as who I know now. Zack, whose daily challenge is finding patience, ran before he walked. Cole, whose scientific mind finds the endless wonder in the details, chose “Wow!” as his first word after “Mama”.
I remember the firsts – the car ride home from the hospital, the teeth, the steps, the holidays. I remember the milestones – the potty training, and riding a two-wheeler, the tying of shoes, and writing of names, and making goalie on the soccer team. The goldfish and hamster funerals, followed by the passing of great-grandparents, opened the doors for conversations about God and lifetimes and energy and spirit. Even amidst the noise and chaos that was the everyday, those were are the moments when I reminded myself to stop. Notice this. Pay attention. This is new. You’ll want to remember this.
As I marvel at the young men they have become, I recognize now the moments that have slipped by me. As we went through the good days, and the bad days, and the days that just passed with the rhythm of meals and laundry and playgroups and bedtime, it’s the final times that have vanished with the subtlety and slowness that comes with the changing of time, unrecorded.
When was the last time that Zack called me into his bedroom to sing Puff the Magic Dragon just one more time? When was the last time he could fit in my lap? I recall the endless stories of “Freddy the Squirrel” – made up tales of a little rascal rodent who coincidentally faced the same obstacles in his life as my boys found in theirs – Mama’s way of offering social skill advice without lecture. When did Freddy face his last challenge, to be tucked away as a memory? When was I last asked if I had time to play a game? When did I last have to kneel down to look a boy in the eye? When was the last “Just one more chapter, Mama, please?” When did that last little baby tooth fall out? When was the last time I kissed a smooth cheek without noticing stubble or having to stand on my toes?
These moments I cherished dearly, and the lasts passed unnoticed anyway. The constants of the seemingly endless days of childhood have come to pass, their final times unremembered. It isn’t so true that “it goes so fast” – it’s not like the grandmothers warn it will be. In the deep of it all, the moments seem like hours, and the days pass so slowly. It’s the lull of the sameness that makes the realization of change come as a shock. The transformation from boy to man happened right under my nose, right in front of my own eyes, such a little bit at a time that I didn’t even know it was happening until it already had. The house is clean. Their laundry is done, and I didn’t lift a finger. There are no toys to be picked up. The yard, once full of holes and fairy houses, is beautifully landscaped – Cole’s proud handiwork. The afternoons pass in silence as they study, or read, or text with friends. I find myself alone in the kitchen when dinner is being made.
Firsts happen still. I remember now the past summer that Cole’s voice deepened from a little boy’s soprano to a booming bass so suddenly that he had to learn volume control all over again. Learning to tie a tie and the first “real date” with a girl are both in the recent rearview of the past few weeks, and the first jobs are on the horizon for the summer. The first “here’s how to use the day planner in your phone” has happened, teaching the skills of organization and efficiency. I know that more firsts will come – borrowing the car keys, and college applications, and voting, and falling in love, and broken hearts. Where the firsts were once the milestones that I anticipated and rejoiced in, wrote down, and committed to heart, they are now moments of bittersweet.
With each first, I witness their changing, so proud of who they are becoming, so in awe of the young men of character that they already are, and knowing daily that each “be home before dinner” brings us closer to our last. I remember daily that the journey of parenting is, indeed, the longest goodbye. I give thanks, daily, for just one more day, for one more time to call them to the table, and one more time to kiss them goodnight while they are still here under my roof. I give thanks for this day to teach them the skills that they will need to be men of power and compassion and grace in the world. I find myself now saying, “Hey, bud, got time to go for a walk with me?” I initiate the conversations that I want to be sure I’ve made time to fit in – wisdom that I want to be sure they’ve heard before they venture into the world, continuing their life lessons on their own. I remind them now, “In this life, know two things for sure – there is a God, and your mother loves you.”
Soon will come the time when it will have to suffice to know that I’ve done the best I can, and the rest will have to happen on its own. I cherish, now, this season of lasts, knowing that one day this, too, will pass.
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