Last week we sat in the waiting room of a pediatric dentist. Lily was in the baby carrier on me and I was doing that cautious-perch-on-the-edge-of-the-chair thing since we all know that babies are very much opposed to their people sitting for more than a minute. The older two were playing nearby with the waiting room toys while getting slightly mocked by a tweenager and her brother but thankfully my little ones did not realize they were being mocked. (*Insert a blog post worth of thoughts on that kind of situation HERE.*) I noticed a woman in her late forties who was sitting across from me rummage in her large mom-purse. She pulled out a tissue and dabbed her eyes.
Of course that was my immediate thought after our recent plague but upon glancing at her again it seemed more like she was crying. Oh no! Why was this lady crying in a place that was clearly not a normal crying place? And then when her almost-a-grown-up-but-still-so-young daughter (pretend like that didn't make you think of that Britney Spears song) walked out with the dentist, that mama started crying for real but at the same time kind of laughing at herself.
"Oh, I'm so sorry! I'm just so emotional! It's all these lasts! She leaves for college tomorrow and it's all hitting me at once. It's just a lot."
Oh, my young mama heart lurched at this moment of witnessing what amounted to 18 years of parenting. Her little bird was about to take flight and it was the mother's job to stand back let that happen. There I sat with a wee baby strapped to me while my about-to-have-his-first-dentist-appointment little boy and about-to-start-kindergarten little girl played nearby and I tried not to listen while still very much listening to what this older, wiser mom was saying to the dentist.
I'm in the land of the firsts but I carefully watch those in the land of the lasts. There is good stuff to learn from those who can look at parenting with nostalgia, but that good stuff sometimes needs to be filtered out.
Some of you may remember when I wrote a post back in 2011 about being so frustrated and bothered by all those comments to "Enjoy every moment! It all goes by so fast!" I wrote that when Oliver was around Lily's age and life was leaving me super depleted. I hadn't been diagnosed with postpartum anxiety/depression yet but I can see it throughout that post. Or maybe it was just extreme sleep deprivation that caused that degree of frustration, but for me there isn't really a point to trying to distinguish between PPD/PPA and sleep deprivation. They end up feeling the same to my brain. Shortly after I wrote the "Enjoy Every Moment!" post, Glennon of Momastery wrote the post Don't Carpe Diem, which went viral. I remember lying on the couch in our townhome, reading through the hundreds of comments on that post. I desperately tried to make sense of it all. I tried to take in the "This is it! This is life's climax! Your life will never be as great as it is when your children are young!" admonitions from the older crowd while much more closely relating to the "This is so hard. How can we possibly enjoy this time?" laments of the younger crowd. I don't remember many of the middle of the road comments, but I'm sure they are there. I just wasn't really in a middle-of-the-road state of mind back then.
Things got easier over the next year but never easy. Borrowing Momastery's analogy, most days still felt like a slow-but-neverending uphill climb and I was always looking for that nice plateau to reach so I could chill out for a bit. And then an encounter at a Starbucks where an older woman told me to, "Enjoy this time. It will just get harder and harder" sent me back to the keyboard for another frustrated post on the same theme: Why I Will Lie to Young Parents.
And then life kept happening and you know what? Things did get easier! A lot easier! Like for a whole solid year when Oliver was 2 and Bella was 4, I found day-to-day life really quite pleasant. The plateau had been reached and I realized that things did move pretty quickly in baby-toddler-preschooler land. I had time to rest and that time out of the parenting trenches gave me so much more energy before I headed back into baby days once again. So now with the gift of perspective (and a decently sleeping baby), I can look at this parenting gig with very different eyes.
Somehow I ended up telling my neighbor, whose 18 year old had just left on her own college adventure, about the dentist lady. And my
neighbor said she could understand it. And then she gushed, "Oh, treasure this time. It will go so fast. You won't
believe it will happen, but it will just slip by."
That kind of comment feels so much sweeter to me now and I can easily take it in the spirit it is intended. I feel this parenting experience very differently
and I don't give much energy to trying to make sense of it or trying to decide if this is the best time of my life and worrying that I'm missing the boat if life is feeling hard. And please know that I
say this after a few very challenging weeks of really crappy sleep, lingering
illness, and little time to myself as I wrangle 3 little ones. But while recent events would have once sent me
fully reeling, it now just leaves me grumpy. My edges have softened when it
comes to these life hiccups (though I am still quite the complainer - I will fully admit that!), I am a calmer parent and person.
Oh, don't get me wrong, I will roll my eyes at anyone who acts like
they enjoyed every minute of their children's youth (BULLSHIT) or anyone who feels like a mother
is doing it wrong if they aren't actively treasuring each second (DOUBLE BULLSHIT AND A KICK TO YOUR SHINS!) but the overall idea of taking a moment to breathe
in the now whenever I get the chance, that I understand better. I'm less panicked about a future that will
include teenagers and adult children and all the challenges that that might bring. I'm no longer scared that this is
supposed to be the pinnacle of my life and that it's all downhill from here. I'm not willing to let my life have a pinnacle. My life is
ups and downs but there will never be a peak that stands so very high above
all the rest.
From my oh-so-smug parenting throne of having five whole years under my belt - in other words, I have had five whole years to realize I know so little - I can see how it does go so fast. I can feel why it's so fleeting. I can truly understand that urge to want to grab someone with a newborn and be like, "THIS TIME WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN! PANIC! PANIC AT THE DISCO!" But I have also had the past five years to get very comfortable with the idea that each new stage is going to have some new good and new bad to it. So I'm firmly in the camp of "Enjoy this moment as much as possibly you can given your unique set of life circumstances and plan on enjoying the next stage and the one after that and the one after that..." Nope, you can't get this time back. Yes, sometimes these days parenting little ones will suck donkey balls and you won't enjoy it at all. Just focus on the big picture of enjoying it. String together those happy moments to savor as time goes on, let the rest fall away as you are able.
So hugs to you, lady at the dentist, as you go through all these lasts and prepare for a new world of firsts with your adult daughter. May you enjoy this change in your life while mourning the end of an era. And I will take to heart the fact that these challenging daily errands of dentists appointments and all the rest represent something so much greater than any given moment, day, or phase in my life with my children. And may I also remember to not schedule too many "lasts" in the days before my children leave for college. I can very much see myself having a big old waiting room cry in 2027.
Bella starts kindergarten in a couple weeks and it's starting to feel so real. Like keep-me-up-at-night real. Right now I'm going through my own mini version of lasts with Bella and I get teary about it at least once every day. This kindergarten transition will help me to prepare for that far away and yet so close date in the future when she leaves for real. Oh god. It hurts. But first we will start with kindergarten. Let us focus on that. We are both ready for this upcoming change to take place, scary though it may seem in the middle of the night.
So hugs to me as I go through all these lasts and prepare for a new world of firsts with my daughter heading to kindergarten. May I enjoy this change in my life while mourning the end of an era.