When I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, a co-worker gave me a piece of advice: “The days are long, the years are short,” he chuckled. But there was a knowing wisdom in that laugh. While I tended to ignore most of the cliché tidbits people threw my way when they saw my pregnant belly, this one stuck with me. And it’s still the advice I try to keep at the forefront of my parenting.
Yes, he was right — somewhere between the long, endless, sleepless nights and the exhausting temper tantrums during the day, I now find myself with a 5-year-old, and I have to stop and think and wonder how that happened.
The deliciousness of her baby cheeks has faded, her laugh has changed, and it amazes me that this precocious and curious child once swam in her newborn clothing and had me in tears over her slow weight gain and difficulty breastfeeding. I recollect how I was nervous that she wasn’t speaking enough; now, her endless chatter is impossible to keep up with. Milestones that seemed years away have come and gone. The first tooth. Walking. Talking. Dressing herself. Washing her hands. Using cutlery. Writing her name. Reading. Folding her socks. When did all of this happen?
Yet, she’s still a 5-year-old, and as part of her increased independence and flair for the dramatic, we butt heads. There’s tension. She morphs into a sullen teenager, and I’m exasperated, terrified for what the real teen years will bring, but ready for this parenting phase to pass. And then she grabs my hand, tells me she loves me and that I’m the best mommy ever, and simultaneously my heart melts as I panic over the thought that this moment will escape and evaporate when I’m so determined to never let it fade.
It’s nearly midnight, and my youngest child, now 15 months, is wailing in her crib. Her incessant need to comfort nurse is both delightful and exhausting, and I fight back tears. I am desperate to sleep, yet I cannot help but succumb to her screams and snuggles.
Her babyhood is far hazier and muted; I just don’t seem to have a clear picture. I constantly fear that I’m missing out on watching her grow — the demands of two children and working from home leave my head spinning, and there’s little energy for me to try to soak all these moments in. And when the baby throws a temper tantrum, I am torn between feeling a desperate desire for her to grow up and mortified by the fact that she’s changing; she’s less of a baby and more of a toddler. One day she will dress herself and go to school and reach all the milestones that once felt far away. Her smiles, her giggles, her waves, her kisses, and the fierce way she needs me — all of these moments are but that: moments. Moments that will one day dissolve and leave me bewildered to think that they ever once existed.
“Stop growing!” I often exclaim to my oldest, who will giggle in response and shout, “But I can’t!” She’s right, and I know it. How is it possible to be thrilled to watch my children grow and so desperate to keep it from happening? I don’t necessarily wish for them to stay little forever; the adventure of parenthood is too great to keep it indefinitely in one stage. And sometimes, the days are so endless, I am ready for the next phase to begin. But other days, like today, I cannot help myself in my desire to hold them little in my heart forever.