I was holding my friend’s baby boy, a long-awaited newborn who was fifteen days old. He was wide-eyed awake and cuddly, and I was as smitten as I’ve always been with those perfect little newborn eyelashes and impossibly tiny fingernails.
I remembered those earliest days when Robb and I were new parents, when we were staying up all night at the best slumber party ever, floating on the euphoric fact that we had together created a person.
And that’s when I almost said, “Enjoy it. Enjoy every minute of this sacred season.” Even now, recalling that sentiment makes me want to kick myself in the shins.
Thankfully, just before the words came spilling out of my mouth with the weight of a cliché that’s a million years old, I remembered the truth: That season is sacred and fleeting, but it’s not every-moment-enjoyable. That giddy stage I mentioned lasted roughly four nights, and then the sleepless hours caught up to us. We were unspeakably tired for a good many years.
As I listened to Jack’s parents talk about how tired they are as they’re learning the likes and dislikes, needs and wants of this baby boy who is forever theirs, I stopped just short of those words I hate. The truth is, they will have some really great and unforgettable moments, but those moments might be scattered between some long stretches of really, really hard.
When my boys were toddlers, when I was Mom to two under three, when well-meaning grandmas would stop me in the grocery store and, calling out over the whining voices in my cart, remind me to “enjoy every moment” because I’ll “miss it all someday,” I remember thinking, Will I miss this? Will I?
I remember thinking, I will miss the next stage. I will miss the preschool years, when they are potty trained and a little independent. When we are having family movie night and game night and reading books together and talking about what they are learning. I think I’ll miss that.
I think I’ll miss the elementary years, watching them run on the soccer field and be the blueberry in the school play. I think I’ll miss the school projects (okay, maybe not the science fairs) and the family camping trips. I’ll miss tucking them in and kissing them good night.
I think I’ll miss the teenage years. I think I will miss their football games and halftime shows. I will miss their humor, when they will love to make me laugh against my best efforts to keep a straight face. I think I will miss knowing and loving their friends, the bustle that comes with a houseful of teenagers hanging out after practice, eating everything in sight.
But will I miss this? Will I?
As I talked with my mom about all of this (as I so often do, since she knows this journey so well, she remembers its demands, and she doesn’t make me feel ridiculous for feeling tired or spent), she said she would say the same thing differently. She doesn’t miss the baby years, but she recalls them fondly. That’s different. She looks at pictures of my brother and me, when we were so very little, and she remembers her babies. She even got teary saying so. Does she want to go back and do that again? No. Not at all. But her whole heart will always remember and hold dear those sweet little people who called her Mommy. There’s a subtle difference there, and it’s hidden in the sentiment every time someone tells new parents to enjoy it all.
That’s refreshing. It’s not about enjoying every minute . . . it’s about enjoying the ones I can and making the most of the ones that are harder to embrace. (Like, oh, I don’t know, the vomit in Tucker’s bed this morning. Make the most, Tricia. Make the most.) I had been so incredulous when anyone told me I was going to miss this, while my children were hanging on my pant legs and demanding more, more, more. Maybe I will miss it someday, but for now, I’m just trying to survive.
But there is a closely related danger in the nature of survival: While I am waiting to “miss this,” what if I really miss this?
What if I miss the little details that are my children, so little, as they are today? What if I am so eager to move on and look back longingly that it all bypasses me in the moment? What if I miss the feel of their sweet little dimpled hands and their fingernails (which always need trimmed)? What if I don’t look at them enough? What if I forget the feel of Tyler’s hands in my hair, my curls gently tangled in his little fingers, as he falls asleep?
What if I forget the many faces of Tucker? He has a distinct expression when he is proud of himself, and when he is trying not to laugh, and when he knows he’s funny. Three different smiles. What if I forget their subtle distinctions? What if I forget what it sounds like to hear them call my name, even if it feels incessant in the moment?
What if I forget how much Tyler loved his blanket? How he dove into it, in his crib, face first? What if I forget how they smell right after a bath? Or even more endearing but demanding to love: right before the bath?
What if I am so busy investing in other people that I forget to invest in them? What if all these calendar events called playdates are really just about me and the other moms, and I’m just letting the boys tag along? What if I miss what they need from me today, because I was too busy with the tasks of today? What if I let them slip through my fingers, when they were so briefly mine to hold? What if I miss this?
Okay, Tricia. Slow down. Yes, slow down with the questions and the what-ifs. But more importantly, just slow down. Slow down the schedule. Slow down the day. Let today be what it is instead of trying to fill it up, make it more, maximize. I have learned that discontentment sets in when I wish for more. More in my life, more in my day, more in this moment.
So that’s the new plan. I am here. So are they. No regrets. I don’t want to miss this. Because someday, I really, truly, actually might miss this. Be present where you are. In this moment, this day, this season, this life stage. I think that’s the secret to not longing for it later: Be fully present in it now.
I am so very thankful I caught myself just before I said those three words to that young couple in the trenches. Instead, I said, “I bet you’re so tired, you guys. But I promise, you’ll find your stride and you’ll get some sleep again someday. It’s okay if you don’t love being awake in the middle of the night. That doesn’t mean you don’t love your baby, it just means you don’t like being awake at ungodly hours.” I rubbed my friend’s tired shoulders, and I said, “Congratulations, weary mom. You are totally winning at this.”
What is the “now” season of your parenting? Decide to lean into it with purpose. Sure, our children love playing on technology—but they’ve heard about Monopoly and chess and even rummy, and that can be an evening of great fun, too. Change it up by tossing a deck of cards into your purse and playing at the food court in the mall instead of at home. Go make some memories. Almost all of us have a silly or adventurous side, though we may have buried it under adult responsibilities. Pull it out on purpose, and do the unexpected. Even if you have to plan it and make it look unplanned.
This is an excerpt from You Can Do This by Tricia Lott Williford.