In a blur of early parenthood, I remember thinking to myself in a I-long-for-time-on-my-own moment, “I can’t wait until all the kids are at school!”
I also remember thinking that parents a step ahead of me, deceived me!
It goes so quickly, they said.
They are only little for such a short time, they said.
Before you know it, they will all be at school, and then adults, they said.
The days within those very early years of motherhood ticked slowly for me. I worked out that I was pretty much either pregnant or breastfeeding for 8 years. Straight!
It was both frantically busy and mundanely slow.
It was a time when tasks didn’t seem to accomplish goals.
It was a time when days and nights were often one.
A new era is at my doorstep and I will, too soon, step out the door. I can’t believe how fast it’s come! This year, all my children will be in formal schooling. Those parents ahead of me didn’t lie after all! And now I’m the one saying, “It’s goes quickly!” Oh, and it does!
I’ve been thinking about this new stage of parenting for a while, particularly as my baby, my only son, starts school this year. I could see it closing in fast ahead of me, like watching the light of day appear larger and larger through a dark tunnel journey. I wrote about it in these posts.
There’s another little story, insignificant really, to tell in the timeline from early parenting to the now. It’s about the last couple of weeks before school finished last year. Knowing, as I did, about the changes just ahead, I planned to dedicate lazy days doing things son and I loved to do together (visit the environmental centre and museum) before the busyness of the school holidays began with my other 3 children added to the mix.
But it didn’t happen. No. Those weeks before school ended were hard for many reasons, and frantically busy. Stressful even. My plans for special days didn’t happen and I felt sad about that at the time. I still do, a little. It isn’t guilt…but rather a touch of grief. Sadness. Disappointment in losing something hoped for. It’s interesting how a particular emotion can take me back to another time. As I let the feeling of disappointment wash over me in a quiet moment, I could see myself standing where I was 4 years previous. At the risk of sounding perfectly strange, it felt like I was looking out of the eyes of my younger self for a moment! One little insignificant story leads to another, as thoughts often go.
Rewind 4 years. Again, I was preparing for a new phase. My baby boy was 14 months at the time. I didn’t particularly adore breastfeeding, I enjoyed the bonding time — yes — and I believe breastfeeding is a wonderful thing, but I do remember feeling glad once each of my babies moved on. Expect for this time. This time, with my youngest child, I wanted to mark that last feed. This is the last feed! It’s rather silly, really. I pondered it for a week, and then one day, my son just stopped. Just like that; before I could experience the finale. It’s how it should be, but I didn’t get that celebratory feed. That last feed where I marveled in the wonder of raising each of my babies to the next stage of their life.
Expectations that failed to realise: they are. But these two disappointments are hardly worthy of sadness, surely. It could be seen as silly or trivial. There are much more important things to worry about, yes. And yet, we feel what we feel. I feel what I feel, and I believe it’s wise to allow emotion as it comes, in whatever scale. The waves that crash on the beach, they come. And if you let them wash over you, allowing the momentum kick your body back a little rather than resisting, the waves tire less, and invigorate more. And so I allow myself to feel sad. It’s okay, I say to myself, without wallowing. Then, always onward: there’s no point in holding on to disappointments of yesterday.
I’m a goal orientated person, and I love finishing things. In fact, when I became a mother, I realised how addicted I was to achieving goals when I couldn’t quite achieve them anymore! You can read about that here. Knowing my goal bent, it makes sense why I would seek to mentally mark a stage in an effort to move on. However, life doesn’t usually work out quite so neatly, and I have learned to love the play, more than the last song. There is satisfaction in the bittersweet. And in that, I realise each new milestone for my son represents an end to a stage for me. His firsts, will so very often, match my lasts as he brings up the rear of each parenting stage. There’s beauty in that.
In both of the small stories above, I wanted to celebrate something that was already there. That’s it! To celebrate what was already there! Just like a birthday marking a span of time already spent, so too, I longed to mark the beauty of the times spent with my son. And not only my son, but all the sweet (and exhausting) years I spend with each of my children during the pre-school stage. And so with this realisation — the celebration, the lasts, the finale — it didn’t seem to matter so much anymore. Because it was already there.
Again, it hit me: the importance of living life right now. Not waiting for that dedicated hour, or that lazy day, or for things to be just right, or the weekend to come. Oh, those times are wonderful, and I’ll always long and plan for them, but without living life in the richness of the moments, those times of celebration are empty vessels.
If I could go back to my younger self, I would say,
Dear tired mother,
Don’t forget to touch that curved cheek today. Because that is precious, right there, that moment.
Trace that small hand with your thumb.
Bottle the sound of laughter as you kiss a bare tummy. Bottle it somewhere special inside you if you can.
Talk about everything. Even if they don’t understand.
You will never regret those dedicated moments when you drink in your child’s form with your eyes.
Revel in the bright eyes that look at the wonder of life with newness.
Strive for connection. Make it a priority. Take the time.
And always make time, to waste time with these little ones. Because they will, so often, teach you about the important things.
Don’t wish it away.
Invest in love at every moment you can.
Because you will miss this time, I promise. And it WILL go fast, even though the days go slow. I promise. What you do, in those seemingly insignificant days, even as the world spins by, is incredible. Believe it.
And so, I say goodbye to a stage of my life. Things will change for me, and they should. Change is good. What I will take with me to this next stage is the lessons of love I’ve learned and the importance of investing in life as it happens. This, I will continue to strive for.
Thank you for all the wonderful times, my son. I’ll miss you, more than you can know. I am proud of you and know this: I will always have your back.