Right now, it’s barely sunrise. I’ve already had a cup of coffee, washed some dishes, fed the cat, and filed a writing assignment. My newborn baby is asleep a few feet away, ironically, since she kept us up most of the night.
My daughter is exactly 1 month old today. She’s a pretty terrible sleeper, and I’m told that most babies are at this age. She seems to hate the fancy bassinet we bought for our bedroom and spends most of the night making noises that can only be compared to what I assume a baby dragon sounds like. Naturally, I spend most of the nighttime hours checking on her, making sure she’s not choking or something equally horrific, and picking her up when her noises enter the realm of “I’m gonna start screaming if you don’t hold me, FYI.” I’m not sure how much sleep I got last night, but I’ve somehow begun to learn to function on very little.
I find myself often saying, “I can’t wait until she’s __ months old,” or “Can we just fast-forward until Christmas?” The first week home from the hospital, I was looking ahead to October, when I’d have my 6-week postpartum checkup, anticipating being pain-free, and wishing I had a time machine to just freaking get there already. And even as I type this, a part of my brain is daydreaming about that magic checkpoint all parents talk about, when it suddenly “gets easier.”
But for every time I’ve wished for the future, I immediately feel a little guilty because I know that future-me will probably regret wishing this time away. I know that because present-me regrets all the times I’ve wished things away in the past. When I was 16, I worked weekends at an outdoor museum for my high school’s community service, one of those places where people dressed up in Colonial garb and churned butter outside in the blistering heat of August.
I hated it beyond all despair. I hated putting on that heavy patterned dress and apron in the dead of summer, being bored all day while I showed stupid tourists how to make a candle, or something equally lame. The six or seven hours I spent there once a week felt like months. I remember one morning, taking a shower as I got ready, mentally pleading to somehow magically jump to 5 p.m. I squeezed my eyes shut with the hope that when I opened them, it would be the evening, and the day would be behind me. Those days are behind me now, along with everything else from high school, college, and after. And in a way, I miss it.
In one of my favorite novels — Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld — the protagonist talks about this very thing. The book, which is set at a fancy private school in New England, features a scene in which the characters are woken in the middle of the night by a fire alarm (something that I remember all too well from college). “’I just want this to be over with,’” one of the girls says. Sittenfeld goes on to write: “The fire drill is finished, but so is everything else. Did we believe we could pick and choose what passed quickly?”
Those words pop into my head every time I rush away these first few weeks and months of my daughter’s life. Every time I look forward to the future, I momentarily feel a pang of sadness because there’s something happening right now that I am going to miss. It might be the weird little face she makes when I kiss her nose, or how she sits like a frog in my lap when she falls asleep after eating. It could be the funny things that happen in the midst of no sleep, like how my husband was randomly convinced that her onesie read “Oven-Roasted Turkey” during a 2 a.m. diaper change. Or maybe it’s just simply the quiet moments before sunrise, the pieces of the day that I never really experienced up until now.
But it’s hard to savor the moment when it’s the middle of the night and all I want to do is fall asleep, or when I couldn’t even hold her properly in the hospital room because of how much pain I was in. In those moments, the only thing that helps me stay sane and positive is the knowledge that this too shall pass. And yet, so will everything else. And that makes me sad, consumed with nostalgia for memories that haven’t even happened yet. I’m already missing today, and today has barely begun.
It’s a weird paradox that makes me feel completely stuck, and I’m not sure how to break free of the cycle. I suppose the only thing to do is to savor what I can, let go of what I can’t, and keep track of the things that I want to remember. If there’s one thing I have learned so far in this chapter of my adult life, it’s that time passes a lot faster than it did when we were younger. A year can feel like a lifetime as a kid; as a grown-up, it sometimes feels like just a single month.
So yes, this too shall pass, which is good, bad, and everything in between. And while “now” is really now, and not a memory, I’ll do what I can to appreciate it as much as I can. And if I’m doing my best, I suppose that will have to be good enough.