As any mother knows, it’s never helpful when some supposedly
well-meaning strangers stop us in the grocery store when we’re in the midst
of trying to curb the 2-year-old knocking over the entire apple display,
to utter those familiar words:
“Enjoy it, momma. It
goes by so fast.”
We flash a tight, polite smile while we fight off the urge
to yell, “You think I don’t know that?!”
all while wondering how many hours it is until bedtime.
Living life as a mom is a very strange combination of love
and frustration, boredom and busyness, satisfaction and discontent. It feels at once that life at home with
littles will stretch on forever and flashes by in an instant when you are left
bewildered as your baby is suddenly refusing to hold your hand at school
I’ve been in the trenches of motherhood for six years now, and while I can safely say that I’ve known all along how right those
grandmotherly types at the grocery store were, I’ve also felt like this stage
in my life has trumped all others. I know, rationally, in my head, that I was
once a woman who drank beer in Belgium and swam in a fountain in front of the
Eiffel tower and a woman who will one day, have all the time in the world to write
the next great American novel. But I honestly feel like I can’t picture her.
I worry that I’ve taken the “enjoy these years” sentiment to heart so much that I’m afraid to even look past them.
I feel like this stage in my life, of having a belly just a
bit too squishy for my liking and basing my work hours around the baby’s
feeding schedule, is my “real” life. Surely nothing mattered before I became a
mother and surely nothing that follows after this toddler and preschool stage
will be as important, right? I mean, why else would everyone drop those “enjoy
it now!” guilt bombs on me as I cruise through the cereal aisle? It’s because
this is the “best” time in my life, right?
We've idealized the period of mothering young children so
much that it’s become hard to look past it. I have a hard time imagining myself
as anything but a mother of young kids, that
woman who’s always pregnant or breastfeeding or herding a load of kids in and
out of the car. I’m in the thick of it now and I really do love this stage, as
hard as it can be. I worry that I’ve
taken the “enjoy these years” sentiment to heart so much that I’m afraid to
even look past them.
I asked my grandmother recently, a woman who raised nine children by the time she was barely out of her 20s, a woman famous for once
having two babies in the same year, if she remembers that time in her life a
lot — if those precious years seared a memory of love that never faded.
She paused for a moment, thinking about it and then casually
shook her head.
“No,” she said simply. “I really don’t think about it.”
Her answer shocked me. What? She didn’t think about it? Her
life wasn’t defined by those early years of raising babies and toddlers and
preschoolers and sleepless nights and worries and self-doubt and car seat
recalls? How could this be? She didn’t
prescribe to the sentiment that her self-worth was directly related to her identity
as a mother?
When I thought about it, I realized how short that time of raising little kids really is.
With my grandma’s simple answer, I realized that here was a
woman who lived the stereotypical life of a stay-at-home mom, raising a bunch of
little kids, and she bucked the notion that what is actually a relatively short
time in our lives is the best time in our lives.
And when I thought about it, I realized how short that time
of raising little kids really is. For example, I will most likely be raising my
little kids at home alone before they are all in school for about 10 years total.
That’s it — 10 years, one decade of what is hopefully a long, fulfilling life.
If I live to be at least 80, that’s but a blip in my stretch of years.
Will my life be defined by the 1/8th of it spent
raising little kids? Or will this stage in my life simply be that — one stage, with each stage bringing its own joys, challenges, beauties and heartaches?
I won’t always be this mom, the one constantly cleaning up
spilled cups of milk and wiping down sticky chairs. Someday, I will be that elderly woman in the grocery store,
too. And when I see her, the mom I once was, I won’t burden her with the guilt
of pressuring her to enjoy the best years of her life.
Instead, I will smile at her and remember the days gone by.