It always sounds like a good idea, meeting friends with little ones for a park play date. Every time (and I mean EVERY TIME), I end up on what feels like Suicide Watch for my toddler, who runs dangerously close to every playscape drop-off or runs right in front of the big kids swinging, practically begging to get kicked in the face. If I get in five minutes of conversation with whomever I arranged to meet, it’s a minor miracle.
I’m no “helicopter mom,” but Asher is almost two — which means I can’t take my eyes off of him for more than five seconds without the strong possibility of disaster ensuing. I see new moms lounging on blankets with their babies (the ones in the perfect life stage where they’re content to sit and play with little toys because they haven’t yet learned to crawl), chatting with other moms… and I want to shout, “THE END IS NEAR! Soon you, too, will be chasing an insane toddler around this playscape in constant risk assessment mode!” Those are the moments that make me nostalgic for what I remember as a slower, easier time.
Then there are the days I see the moms that are straight-up chilling at the pool (like reading Us Weekly while sitting in a beach chair for the love) while their big-kid swimmers are pretty much self-sufficient. Meanwhile, I’m trying to make sure my children stay afloat and don’t wander into the deep end. Moments like this usually end with me calculating how long until I, too, can relax without fear of someone drowning.
What I struggle with far too often is enjoying the present, overcoming the “get-through-the-day” mentality. I’m probably told weekly by some well-intentioned, older parent that “Time flies! Enjoy it!” (Or, more cynically, as an older gentleman told me recently, “Those little ones are cute when they’re little. But watch it… Even sweet kittens turn into cats.”)
I can scroll through any new mom’s Facebook feed and will almost certainly see the hashtag #timeslowdown. And while I know on a cognitive level that time is fleeting, it sometimes seems like every day is much longer than 24 hours. When you’ve woken up at 6 a.m. and have an entire 14 hours until bedtime to fill with educational entertainment (aka “edutainment” if you want to sound like one of those moms at your next playdate) plus meal prep, laundry, meal cleanup, raising children to not be jerks in the world, etc. it’s a long freaking day no matter how you slice it. Add in a trip to Target close to nap time and you will find yourself questioning the meaning of life.
Still. I know I’m in a season that will soon end and make way for a new one that’s beautiful and challenging in ways I can’t see quite yet. How would I have known that that my newborn’s constant need to be held would soon turn into toddlerhood cuddles on repeat? Or that I’d see my now-five-year-old daughter’s intense love of board books turn into a full-blown obsession with making her own books out of stapled printer paper?
It’s a daily struggle not to romanticize the past — the sweet, cooing baby stage that was also sleepless and anxiety-filled — and, simultaneously, not romanticize the future — sure to be filled with its own joys and challenges. The secret, I think (and please take this with grain of salt since I’ve only been on this motherhood journey for five years), is to be grateful, truly grateful, for whatever season you’re in and try your best to not look too far behind or too far ahead. Live, as best as you can, in the moment you’ve been given.
How to achieve this is anyone’s guess, but I recently I’ve employed a few habits that seem to help time stand still and learn about embracing the now:
Relive the past, just for a minute.
It usually takes, oh, 30 seconds looking at my Instagram feed circa 2012 for me to feel a wave of nostalgia. Those were the early days of my now-5-year-old daughter, Norah, and looking at those pictures is like watching her life flash before my eyes. Seeing her learning to crawl, swinging in the neighborhood park’s baby swing, or being held by a clearly exhausted new mom makes me realize how quickly those baby days evaporate. It also makes me want to include realistic captions with the photos I post now (for example, “This photo was taken right before Asher clawed Norah in the face”) so I can remember the happy times have their low points, too.
Sometimes you just need a break, Mama. Scheduling a date night is always a good idea, but often you just need a minute where you can escape. Call your mom, call a sitter, call that one neighbor with whom you trade favors, and ask them to swing by for a quick stint with your little cherubs. Take yourself out for coffee, a manicure, or even 20 minutes in the Sonic parking lot where you can sip your cherry limeade and check your email in peace. When you return home, your children will magically be more charming.
Live in the Moment.
Even if it’s for just 15 minutes a day, turn off all the devices and just be with your kids. Look at their chubby cheeks and listen to their high-pitched, lyrical little voices. Notice how they still want to sit in your lap when you read them a story or how they say “hold you” when they want to be held. It’s fleeting, yes, but if you really take time to notice those little moments each day, I think it helps you let go of the past a little more gracefully. You’ve been there, savored it, and so there should be no regret or sadness in looking back at these days.
I still get a pang of jealousy when I see those poolside moms, and I still want to yell, “The end is near!” to those moms with immobile babies. But that’s the sad and merciful thing. The end really is near. A good friend recently remarked off-handedly that her six-year-old was now one-third finished with living at home, assuming she leaves for college at age 18. That pretty much made me want to cry ugly tears and eat Ben and Jerry’s when I realized the same will be true for my daughter soon. All we have is today, and to wish it away — either by painting the past or future as more appealing — is the surest way to miss today in all of its messiness and beauty.