I have to walk across a street and inside Abby’s school building to pick her up. Between Leah tripping along beside me holding my right hand, and Jem ambling beside me on the left, and Caboose leading the way from my belly, we’re quite the spectacle of cuteness as we hold up traffic.
The other day as we paraded along, a mom of mostly older kids remarked out loud as she watched our slow progress, “Aren’t those just such sweet times?” And another parent, also of bigs, agreed, but then caught me by surprise when she added, “But they’re really hard!”*
I laughed out loud in surprise, because that is so different from the feedback I usually get from parents who are out of the tiny-people phase. Almost always, they look at my kids’ cherub faces and remember the days when their own offspring still held their hands and snuggled into their necks and wore shoes smaller than gravy boats. And then they always say… (join me, mamas, in unison now:)
“Enjoy those days! They grow up so fast!”
Some days I can hear that and give Leah’s little fat cheek an extra smooch. But there are some times that I look back at that mom, that mom who gets to sleep in on Saturdays, whose shirts don’t smell like puke, who leaves her kids at home while she goes to the grocery store, those same kids who can GET THEIR OWN &@!!$ SNACKS whenever they get hungry. And I know she means well, so I just smile back, but inside I despair.
It feels like looking at this poor waterlogged sponge and telling it, “Water is so amazing! Soak it up!” When probably all that sponge wants at the moment is for someone to wring it out and let it rest for five minutes before more dirty dishes require its assistance.
Here’s what I have to remember: we all tend to think that someone else’s life looks better than ours. I’m neck-deep in cuddles and carseats, and I dream of the day when my kids will be big enough to wipe their own bottoms, take out the trash, and catch my Jane Austen references. I don’t think about how complicated and stressful it will be to parent children with Big People problems. As for those moms of teens and tweens in the crosswalk, all they think about is that particular sweetness of little children that is so easy for me to take for granted. (It’s a grace, I think, that we get to have such a selective memory as our kids grow up, don’t you agree?)
It’s easy to look at the newlywed with no kids, or the mom with kids in a different stage, and think bitterly (or wistfully!) about how much easier their life must be. But every stage has its challenges, just as every stage has its unique blessings. So I soak up all I can, but I also don’t feel guilty if I want to escape the sweetness for a few hours alone at Starbucks, if I catch myself wishing for someone to just achieve their milestone already, or if I don’t get every precious second videotaped and scrapbooked.
Jem at two melted my heart, but I don’t have to mourn the two-ness that is gone, because he’s still pretty darn fun at almost-four. And I’m thankful for moms in my life who publicly enjoy their tweens and teenagers and grown-up kids, because it gives me hope that for every sweetness I leave behind, there’s still more ahead.
I remember having to learn a similar lesson as I transitioned from working as a teacher to being a full-time stay at home mom. Almost exactly three years ago, I wrote:
The idea of seasons reminds me that good gifts don’t usually come all at once. Each season (even here in Texas!) brings its own joys as well as its own limitations. I’m waiting anxiously to transition from summer to fall: getting some relief from the heat, breaking out my cardigans and boots, enjoying candy corn and hot chai lattes, taking pictures of the kids at the pumpkin patch. But opening myself up to these delights necessarily requires letting go of the afternoons at the pool, the cute comfort of shorts and sandals, the taste of fresh peaches and watermelon. The fall also brings extra responsibilities and activities, days of perpetually cold feet, leaves blowing into the front foyer, and lots of annoying football-related statuses on Facebook…
Surrendering to the season means keeping an open hand and enjoying each sweet gift as it comes, and it also means resisting the temptation to rage against the limitations that each season implies.
I’m praying for grace to be fully present in each season as it comes, and not to take today’s gifts for granted. But on those days when I’m more like a floating sponge than a supermom, it’s also a grace to know that seasons don’t last forever; that there’s always more and different sweetness to come.
(*Thanks for this, Ellen! I don’t even know if you’ll remember this moment, but it was encouraging to me!)