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Everyone's Wrong: The Baby Years Go By Slow

Photograph by Twenty20

"Enjoy every minute. It goes by so fast."

Almost every parent has heard that warning—often at the grocery store, and usually from older women, their eyes gleaming with longing.

I hated hearing that chide for several reasons; in my sleep-deprived, depressed state, I already felt bad that I wasn't enjoying early parenting more. But more than that, I disagreed. Time didn't seem like it was going by quickly at all.

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During those first few years of parenting, part of me didn't believe my kids would ever get older.

It sounds crazy but also familiar. The feeling was similar to how I felt as a child yearning to grow up; it felt like it was taking forever, like adulthood was something I might never achieve.

Trapped in a loop of nursing, diapering and anxiety, I lost the perspective of time. I missed my old life, my autonomy, even the ability to perform a simple task like emptying the dishwasher without being interrupted by crying babies.

I fantasized about the day my son would start kindergarten. But it seemed eons away—I couldn't imagine some future version of my little boy, a version that needed me less, that could walk and talk and dress himself.

Of course, despite how it felt, time kept passing. Exhausting, frustrating days and nights stacked on top of themselves, becoming months and years.

Let all that love wreck you and then build you back up again.

Now, it's bedtime and I snuggle in close to my daughter. She's 4, and for just a little while longer, I am the sun she orbits around. I'm the one she wants when she's sad or wants to play or needs cuddles. In the sweep of shadows, I can see the baby she used to be.

But tonight, I see something else as well. Curled up on her side, I see an older version of her. In this future version, her adorable baby cheeks have thinned out and her huge blue eyes don't take up her whole face like they do now.

And I start to cry. With no warning, I see all the letting go that lurks just around the corner. I try to summon her past infant lightness in my arms, but instead I feel the heft of her as I carried her up the stairs moments ago.

"Goodnight, Sweetie. I love you so much," I whisper, then head to my son's room, my heart aching.

At 7, stretched out under his jungle animal comforter, my son is far from the fussy, high-needs baby he once was. His infant self has been shed, traded in for the long, lean-limbed boy he is now, the one who collects football cards and Star Wars figures. I lay down next to him and start singing "Sweet Baby James," like I do every night. I rub his back and he wriggles when it tickles him. But tonight my voice shakes with my tears, though he doesn't seem to notice. Soon, my singing will embarrass him. But for right now, just for this moment, he lays here next to me and I sing while the tears slide down my cheeks and onto his pillow.

I cry because time is going by, against all my disbelief. The bubble of those early, hard years has been pierced, and now time feels uncoiled, spinning.

Unstoppable.

I cry for all the time I wished away, and because with so little notice, the ache of my kids' need has morphed into the ache of their looming independence.

I cry because they are just mine for a little longer. I want to freeze these little moments: the way my son and I ran around today giggling in the wind, following the tornado of leaves swirling in the yard. The lilt of my daughter's voice when she asks me to play with her. The way sometimes at night, like just now, my son looks at me with light in his eyes and simply says "Mama," and it sounds like maple syrup, like the best thing in the whole world.

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I want to memorize it all.

I'll never enjoy every minute—of parenthood, or life—because it's not possible. But now that the hard early years are gone, I think I know what those older moms meant: Soak up these moments. Let all that love wreck you and then build you back up again. It is so hard and so good.

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