I see them everywhere: mothers with babies and toddlers, going about their lives. I wouldn’t go back. Those days were hell. There was spit-up on everything, and wading in an endless sea of diapers while spending hours on end trapped in the house by the naps schedule made for all sorts of crazy. The lack of autonomy was shocking and confining, and yet, I feel an ache in my heart and a sadness beyond measure.
Old baby photos and chunky toddler legs trigger an onslaught of feelings too gigantic and totally uncontained. The urge to go back and revisit those moments knocks me hard in the chest. Nostalgia has immense power, and on one hand is joy and the other is pain; for me, it’s a messy and muddled conglomerate of both ends of the spectrum.
The multitude of annoying old ladies at the grocery store were right:
“Enjoy it while you can, honey. They grow up so fast.”
How could I have known? Hindsight is everything.
Snippets—reliving snapshots in time and recovering the precious time that I missed—that’s all I really want.
I’d start at the beginning: a newborn baby. The tiny life that grew inside me, torturing me for months, asleep on my chest, while I inhaled the scent of her soft, fuzzy head and listened to the sound of her breath was everything to me. I miss these moments, even though I was tired and wrecked from childbirth and overwhelmed by my new identity. How could I have known that this was one of the sweetest moments I’d ever have?
The nine-month mark was one of my favorites. I’d bury my face in her belly, letting the tsunami of laughter roll over me. I’d squeeze her fat legs, pinch her fat cheeks and bite her impossibly small toes as my heart breaks into a million pieces. Most of all, I’d soak in the unconditional love that this little human offers me. I see now—I see it so clearly. Those days were some of the best.
Chasing, correcting and teaching marked 18 months. I’d give her all of me, the distraction of baby sister gone for this moment. We’d go to the pool, and I’d swing her by her feet, telling her I loved her more than anything. They say that hindsight is 20/20, and now that I’m here, I know this to be true. I was the moon and the stars to this sweet child, and I missed it. Lost in the chaos of her newborn sister, I missed this time with my girl.
At 2 and 3 they become more real. Curious, courageous and mischievous, we’d play tickle chase, find bugs in the creek and snuggle down for a nap. Turning back would give me one day with her—one day of my full attention. Chores aside and Facebook be damned. This day is locked in my memory forever.
The beginnings of fierce sibling rivalry mark the 4th and 5th years. These years were impossibly hard and parenting became a mystery once again. The tragedy of hindsight reveals that the precious era of little girls comes to an end, and I took it for granted, stuck in the eternal struggle of long and exhausting days. For one full day, every last piece of me would be hers, every single ounce.
Hindsight parenting is bitter and sweet and cracks the door to regret and heartache. Wishing to go back while watching the present slip by is no way to live, but limited perspective leaves us blind to the gift in our hands. The chaos of kids is messy business, but beautiful in its own rite, and so today, I’ll be better, knowing that at some point in the not too distant future, I’ll long for this moment, wishing to come back.