Taking four kids to the grocery store isn't my idea of a good time, especially when they're tired, hungry, and/or bickering – which at least one in the group always seems to be. Then one day in the checkout lane my impatience came to a head. Two were elbowing one another, one was begging for gum for the thousandth time, and the baby was wailing furiously. "Just. Stop," I hissed at them with widened eyes and gritted teeth, visibly irritated.
The older woman checking out ahead of me gave me a knowing smile and eyed my children wistfully. "I know it's hard sometimes," she said, "but enjoy every moment, because they grow up so fast. My four are all out of the house now and I hardly get to see them anymore."
Just like that, my anger deflated, replaced by a sudden wave of mom-guilt delivering a walloping punch to my gut. It's true, I thought. This is all the time I'm going to have with them. Someday they'll have separate lives and families of their own, and I'll be secondary. They'll never need me again the way they do now.
I was slightly annoyed by the reminder – life was so much easier when I was just pissed off at them – but I couldn't ignore the sentiment behind the woman's statement. I knew it was true because that wasn't the first time I've heard it straight from the mouth of someone with experience, someone who has been there. And it was confirmed every time I looked at them and caught a brief, surprising glimpse of their maturity: how big they'd gotten, how gangly their limbs were becoming, how independent they are.
Time is, indeed, slipping through my fingers like water. And because of each "enjoy every moment" reminder or article I read, I'm perpetually afraid that I'm not enjoying it enough.
Time is, indeed, slipping through my fingers like water. And because of each "enjoy every moment" reminder or article I read, I'm perpetually afraid that I'm not enjoying it enough. I try to stop and notice the little things, like the way they smell and the way their eyelashes curl against their cheeks while they sleep. I wonder endlessly if this is enough to sustain me.
I picture myself as an old lady alone in my childless, spotless living room, staring out the window, laboring to breathe under the crushing weight of grief that too many moments went by unnoticed, unacknowledged. Wishing I had a few more crumbs to clean up or a few more squabbles to mediate. I live my life under an umbrella of worry that I'm not soaking enough of it in – that someday I'm going to come to the horrible realization that I should have appreciated their childhood more, but by then it will be too late.
But when I stop to think about it, I realize that some degree of sadness – of mourning the loss of their childhood – is likely inevitable, no matter how much of it I actively enjoy. I mean, is there ever really a saturation point for that kind of thing? Can we quantify exactly how much we must savor before we've relished enough? Would we ever reach a point where we could look back someday and be perfectly satisfied that we hadn't missed a thing? Probably not. I'm sure, as sure as I am that they're growing up too fast, that I will always wish for one more bedtime story . . . one more handmade card . . . one more, "Mommy, I love you!" . . . no matter how many moments I take now to absorb it all.
"Enjoy every moment" is too lofty a goal.
"Enjoy every moment" is too lofty a goal. It's a lot of undue pressure to put on ourselves. There will never come a day when we don't reminisce and wish we had more time, so there's no point in putting ourselves under such an immense strain for an outcome we're never going to get anyway.
It's like this: I'm standing underneath an Autumn tree when a brisk wind blows dozens of leaves down, swirling around me like rain. Instead of frantically trying to catch them all, which is impossible, I'll just smile at the beauty of the overall chaos – and then catch a few of the best and brightest leaves to press into a book. And later, when I look at it, I'll look at those leaves and they'll remind me of the whole experience: wind in my eyes, leaves everywhere. I may not have caught each one, but I was there to see them as they whirled frenetically around me, all part of a bigger picture.
I hope that's enough. I have to think it will be.
Product Credit: Left: Everlane sweatshirt, Gap sweatpants / Right: Marigot PJ shirt