I’m pretty sure most parents have had an encounter like this. You’re out at the grocery store or a restaurant. Maybe your kids are running wild. Maybe one of them is crying over a dropped French fry, or painting their legs with ketchup, or eating stale gum off the bottom of the table. Maybe you are visibly losing your mind.
And then a kind, wizened veteran parent approaches you in the midst of the chaos and says something to the effect of, “Enjoy this. It goes so fast.”
If you are like me, you are all at once grateful, touched, annoyed and ambivalent. Because on one hand, how am I supposed to enjoy it when so often I’m just trying to survive it? And on the other hand, this stranger is absolutely right.
You know from the sincerity in their smile, the lines around their eyes and the wistfulness in their voice, they’ve been around the parenting block. They’ve seen some stuff. They’ve raised some kids. They know things you don’t yet know. They’re on the other side — and they miss it.
Over the years, I’ve gone from taking this advice with an arrogant grain of salt, to accepting it with a heightened level of gratitude and appreciation, to fully internalizing it.
Because these days, I have a weary-but-wizened mother living in my head.
She is not me, per say. She is my mother, my mother-in-law, my aunts, my coworkers, my friends’ parents, the strangers I encounter in restaurants, in grocery stores and on weekend walks around our neighborhood. She is an amalgam of all of the advice and perspective I’ve been given over the last five years.
And she exists to talk me down from life’s little ledges.
When I am up at 4:30 a.m. for the third time that night — my alarm clock gearing up to go off in another hour and a half — she tells me that someday I’ll miss the slog down the hall, the tiptoeing, the exhaustion, the middle-of-the-night rendezvous with Phoebe.
When I’ve grown frustrated by the ceaseless questions, incessant pestering and bedtime negotiations, she reminds me that someday, when Emilia is a surly and inevitably dramatic teenager holed up in her room, talking to her robot instead of me (because this is the future so there will definitely be robots), I will miss the questions.
And on the days when it feels like I’m moving through the world encumbered by inconvenience, weighed down by the baby who doesn’t sleep, by the drawn-out and inefficient morning routine, by the overwhelming busyness of it all, she tells me that someday I will have that freedom, and it won’t feel half as free as I imagine it because we will always be tied to our children. It’s less a burden and more a privilege.
Some days, I tell her to shove it.
But most days, I thank her for the perspective. I try to enjoy it. And I ask her to please come back tomorrow, so she can remind me again.
Catherine Kraemer writes twice a month for Momaha.com. She and her husband, Matt, are the parents of three young girls – Emilia, 5, Grace, 3 and newborn Phoebe. Originally from St. Louis, Catherine lives in Omaha and works at a local advertising agency.