My daughter is one and a half. It is such a cute age – the age when everything she sees is the most exciting thing that has ever happened. She’s uttering her first sentences in an adorable baby-lisp. She smiles and waves hi at everyone, and her skin has that amazing baby smell, and every once in awhile I feel my brain returning to The Grand Old Standby, the sentence that’s guaranteed to reactivate my mostly-dormant anxiety and crank up the old tear ducts:
I just want everything to stay this way forever.
I find myself wishing I could press a pause button on my daughter, make her stay my little baby girl who lies in bed next to me at night and gazes into my eyes and whispers “Love you, mama” for all eternity.
And then I think about my son. He is four and a half now. He has done the thing that I spent years being afraid he would do: he has grown out of the age when he wants nothing more than to lay on my lap and be held. Except he has also grown into a person who I can have conversations with, who I can talk to about where clouds come from and where the dinosaurs went. He asks questions I can’t answer, and pushes me to keep learning. He tells me elaborate stories about his grandson, and when I tell him I wish I had played soccer when I was a little girl he says, “It’s okay, mama, one day you’ll get older, and then you’ll be born, and then you’ll be a little girl again and you can play as much as you want.” My son makes me believe there is something bigger out there, which is a belief I’ve been searching for for as long as I can remember.
He stuns me with these glimpses of the things he will one day think and say and do. And they are just the beginning.
One day my daughter will be four and a half years old. One day my son will be a teenager. I still hate hearing the words “it goes so fast”…but now I try to take them for what they are: the words of people whose own experiences parenting young children are often many, many years in the past, softened by the passage of time. They miss things about having babies; of course they do. Babies are cute. Except when they’re not, they’re really not. And the idea that anyone is capable of enjoying every moment with one is a fiction.
My best friend’s mom once said, “Don’t do your [family] planning around the pain in the ass of infancy, because it’s so finite. Plan it around how many people you want at Thanksgiving.’
– An old Gwyneth Paltrow quote that I think of often
Babyhood is special, but even more special is getting the chance to find out who those babies become. My children will grow older, but they’re not going anywhere: they’re going to be the same people they are right now…except they’re going to be cooler and more interesting and more themselves every single day. And they’re also not going to need my help wiping their butts, which will be awesome.
The gift of parenthood is not a gift of a handful of years when your children are small: it’s the opportunity to watch – and help – them grow into who they are. Parenting is great, but I have a feeling that the experience of having parented is pretty great, too.
And so many years from now, when I’m walking down the street and see that girl with her Bjorn-ed baby struggling with her grocery bags, here’s what I hope I remember to say to her:
“Being a parent is hard. You’re doing a good job. Can I help you with those oranges?”