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To the Mom Who's Knee-Deep in the Toddler Weeds

Photograph by Twenty20

Everything I’m going to tell you may sound unbelievable, but it’s true.

That said, I’m not sure that anyone could have convinced me of these things 18 years ago when I was home with an eczema-covered toddler, and soon after that, a second baby that we called the “napless wonder”. Still, I wish someone had tried, because that once itchy toddler is heading to college in the fall—and looking back, I might have seen things a bit differently.

Let’s start with those many long, slow moments of doing nothing with my baby boy. Hours that became days, that became weeks, then months, then seemingly endless strings of slow moments.

More often than not, we'd pass the time in the yard or playing at the park and I was probably (definitely) wishing that I were at home with a book or deep into some creative project. I remember wondering when will this pace pick up? I remember trying to imagine a future time when my son wasn’t attached to my hip, tugging on my sleeve, needing me and only me. But that scenario felt as strangely impossible as the setting of a sci-fi film.

But on this June day as my boy rushes by me on his way to work and then to hang out with his girlfriend, I want to grab his hand and hold him and remember that time in which we had nothing to do, or nowhere to go, except out to the yard to water the flowers.

I want one moment back that I can slip into my pocket for a summer afternoon like this one, when my work is done and I have hours to myself, but would give up every single one of them for another moment of just wandering around the block with my toddler.

I remember, too, how there would be months without anything that felt like a date with my husband. On weekend afternoons, we would tag team the childcare and take turns running errands. Saturday night was often a riot of cooking, and maybe tidying up for an impromptu dinner party with friends and their kids. Or more likely, exhausted, my husband and I would collapse on the couch with our son watching "Muppet Treasure Island." Again.

I’ve always adored my family, but I didn’t always love being the mother to little kids.

But now? Well, on any given Friday night, my husband and I can go to dinner or any movie, or do whatever we please. Ditto for Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon. Time together is not the rare commodity anymore, but family time on weekends is.

I’m not trying to salt the wound of your longing—I remember that yearning all too well. But I want you to know that these years are more fleeting than you can possibly imagine. So be careful about wishing away all of those mac ‘n cheese dinners and mind-numbing hours in front of Pixar flicks. This too will end. Soon.

In fact, these days when our children decide to stay home on a weekend night, everything feels spirited and balanced again. The house is loud and full of teasing and laughter, and every time it happens, I want to grab a handful of that goodness and press it into my heart.

I’ve always adored my family, but I didn’t always love being the mother to little kids. I was too restless for it somehow. More often than not I wanted to be reading, writing, hanging out with people who spoke in full sentences and chewed with their mouths shut.

But here’s the thing: if you stay put on that park bench, if you put down your iPhone and spend this time with your cranky baby or your overwrought toddler and show them that you will give them thousands of your moments, if you sit with them and pretend to eat the cakes they make from playground sand, or take walks at night to look at the stars, then you will likely have this.

This.

You will have children who, despite their full-to-bursting busy lives, stop for a hug as they head out the door, and in doing so notice that they have always had you there, present with them, sitting, listening, playing, loving. They actually recognize that in all of those moments spent doing nothing with them, you were doing absolutely everything.

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