One of my least favorite lines of parenting advice is the the phrase, “you’re going to miss all of this one day.” I dislike this advice for two reasons.
For one, it’s advice that is in the same vein as telling a grieving person that “everything happens for a reason”, or the person struggling to stay afloat to “shoot for the moon so they can land among the stars.” It can seem more like a brush off than an actual attempt to encourage or commiserate.
I don’t want advice that sounds like a middle school motivational poster telling me how I’m going to make it through each day when there is chaos up to my elbows or the world is on fire. I want practical wisdom that tells me how to get it all done, and advice that tells me that someone else has been right where I am.
The other reason is because it’s too much pressure on us parents.
I get the idea. To savor every moment with your children before they’re gone. Only…it’s hard to see why I should hate the idea that my house will eventually be empty when the other day I had to wash and fold three loads of laundry just to keep the baskets from spilling over.
It’s hard to see a downside to a full eight or nine hours of sleep every night, using the bathroom in complete privacy or not having to break up petty sibling disputes over the t.v. remote – by the way, with the advent of so much new technology, will we ever reach a point where siblings don’t have to argue over a remote of some kind??
We mothers already know.
We know this is a long game. This game where our kids spend eighteen years rearranging our lives, invading our space, losing all of our tubes of chapstick and growing into fully fledged people who leave just as we get used to having them around.
We know. Because we are the ones that put away the baby clothes, drop off the used toys to Goodwill and take kids back to school shopping in the fall because they’ve grown too tall for their jeans. We are the ones that carve the notches into the dining room trim at the tops of their fuzzy heads.
We can look back and tell you where we were in our own lives when they were born, when they were learning to walk or said their first words.
We measure our own selves by how much they have grown.
By how much they have grown us.
We know where the time goes.
I know what meets me at the end of this road. And it pains my heart sometimes that I can’t enjoy everything. That I’m the mom who sucks at being meaningful at bedtime because for the love, children, you have had me all day. Close your eyes.
I’m the mom who can’t fold paper well enough to make origami, can’t sew on a button back on a favorite toy, and who has no desire to visit group story time at the library.
I’m the mom who is still in her pajamas at noon half of the time. I’m the mother who notes every second it takes her six year old to enunciate the word “stem,” who smells like dry shampoo in the checkout line at Target, and who looks at her phone while her kids play at Chick Fil A. I’m the mom who shrivels inside when her toddler asks her to play Paw Patrol.
I already torture myself enough knowing that I don’t savor every.single.moment. with my children like I live inside a Chicken Soup for the Soul book.
Just last night, though, as I listened to three children voice their displeasure with dinner and then move on to fighting over three dollar plastic toys like they were the treasures of ancient Egypt, I whispered to myself that one day, THEY would be the ones to miss this.
They will miss this place where not much is required of them but to do their best. To be happy. To thrive.
Where beach trips just happen, and they aren’t the ones who have to worry about all of the sand in all of the places and slathering sunscreen onto their squirming bodies.
Where someone made sure they had perfect sprinkle covered cookies on Christmas Eve, ice cream on hot summer evenings, and boiled eggs to dye on Easter.
They will miss hot meals served on clean plates (plates they didn’t have to clean), around a table where all of us have locked fingers and bowed our heads in prayer. A place where their sock drawer is always full. Where there is always someone who cares deeply about their hopes and fears and feelings standing at the kitchen sink.
They will go out into the world and realize how much others require of them without caring much about every turning cog in their minds, or how they feel about the movie Jurassic Park.
They’ll find a world that is mostly indifferent to them, save for a handful of good friends and people back home who really know and love them.
They will miss the times when this every day life was their constant.
I try not to let the pressure sink me every day. I try to fight against the urgency to make sure that I get it all right the first time because there aren’t second chances. Even though every new day is ripe with the opportunities to nail this parenting thing.
I succeed when I remind myself why I’m doing all of this in the first place. That I’m building a home because one day, they will understand and it will all matter to them. The peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and folded clothes and late night snuggles – they’ll see it as the lifetime of labor that made them who they are.
I hope to build the place they will one day miss.
I hope they know that they had a place where they were held and valued and watched over.
Even if their mother never did papier-mache with them.