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The Truth About Time When You're a Parent

"Enjoy the time when your kids are young," well-meaning parents with school-age children would warn me. "Those preschool years just fly by."

"Huh?" I would say with drool trickling down the side of my mouth. On a typical day I spent hours reading "Curious George" in a deep monkey voice and pretending to eat sand cakes from my daughter's "bakery shop" in the park. "This is what you call flying by?"

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Bleary-eyed and on my way to brain dead, I would wonder what was wrong with these parents—or with me? My son's eczema ensured that we stayed sleep-deprived for several years. My daughter had boundless energy for everything but lying down. And nothing about those early years felt fast, except the length of my children's naps and those once-a-month dates with my husband.

To be fair, as a mom who worked part-time from home, the baby and toddler years were, in many ways, sweet and luxurious, and I felt immeasurably lucky to have that time with my children. But those years were still long, very very long.

When does time hurry up? I felt like I was missing something important—not just sleep.

For the first time, I could actually feel the rushing wind on that carousel of time. It was going so fast that I couldn't step off.

Admittedly, the pace picked up a bit in the preschool years, but it never felt fast. As long as I had a child at home for much of the week, as long as I was pushing a plastic blue train around a track while trying not to doze off in my cold mac & cheese, I could feel each one of the day's slowly passing hours.

Then it happened, blindsiding me.

With my son in second grade and my daughter in kindergarten, I blinked—just blinked—and the school year disappeared. When June came, I really couldn't figure out where the nine months had gone. My children were finding their way in the world, learning to read, discovering their passions, and becoming their own great selves. And much of it was going on without me.

For the first time since becoming a mother seven years earlier, I could actually feel the rushing wind on that carousel of time. It was going so fast that I couldn't step off.

"Does it ever slow down again?" I asked a mother of two middle-schoolers one day.

"Nope," she said, "it only gets faster."

"Wow. I wish someone had warned me," I joked.

I didn't want those long days back, but from my new vantage point, I was finally able to mourn them.

My son is in high school now, and my daughter will enter ninth grade next year. To loosely paraphrase Joni Mitchell, it won't be long before they, too, want to drag their feet and slow the circle down. But that's for them to figure out, and soon enough they probably will.

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As for my husband and me, will we finally catch our breath again when our kids are gone? Honestly, we are in no rush to find out.

All I really know is this. I would never tell a stay-at-home mom with a young child to cherish this time because it goes by so fast. Rather, I'd say savor every day for a different reason: It may well be the last time that life ever feels slow again.

Image via Sandra A. Miller

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