My daughter sits on the vinyl bench, hands folded tightly in her lap. I can tell she’s nervous. She really wants this second piercing in her ears, but she’s not a fan of needles. She’d called the tattoo shop herself to find out if they did piercings on minors — her 17th birthday present request.
Seeing her sitting there sends me reeling back to her 8th birthday when she got her ears pierced the first time. She was nervous then too. We’d had to walk around the mall for a while so she could gather her courage, and we’d gone through several “You don’t have to do this if you aren’t ready” pep talks before she’d let them put the piercing gun anywhere near her ears.
This time, it was a hollow needle instead of a piercing gun. She did all the research on her own. She made all the phone calls. Even through her nerves, she sat down immediately. Other than my having to sign the consent form because she’s under 18, she was doing this all on her own.
The contrast between my 8-year-old little girl and this 17-year-old young woman hits me hard. So does the fact that in another year — just one more year — I won’t need to be a part of this scene at all. I swallow hard, feeling the familiar panic set in as the thought that’s plagued me for months returns yet again.
I’m running out of time with her.
When we have our babies, their adulthood seems so far away. And it is, truly. It’s a long, hard, amazing road between them entering our world and them leaving our nest. In some ways, I’ve felt every one of those 17 years in their entirety. In other ways, I feel like I blinked and now we’re here.
None of this should have come as a surprise. It’s not like I don’t know how time works. It’s not like she hasn’t gotten a year older every year, just like every child of every parent. But she’s not every child — she’s mine. And I’m not every parent. I’m this person’s mom, the one and only mother she’s ever had, and damn it, I want more time to get it right.
I think about what I pictured when she was little. All of the ideals I had about the mother I was going to be, all of the plans I had for what we would do together, all of those years that I spent thinking I still had time to make all of it happen — that time has almost all passed. I’ve done a pretty good job overall, I think. Not perfect, but pretty good.
But has it been enough? More than on any other birthday, the sound of the ticking clock keeps thrumming in my ears. I’m running out of time. Have I taught her everything I need to teach her? Have I nurtured her gifts as well as I could have? Have I empowered her enough to spread her wings when the time comes? Have I maintained the bonds of our relationship well enough to make her want to come home?
Part of me feels like I did my best and part of me feels like I could have done more. Part of me is devastated that my baby is almost all grown up, and part of me is elated. Part of me wishes I could go back and do it over again, and part of me wouldn’t go through it all again for a million dollars.
But mostly, what I feel right now is the vital importance of grabbing onto the years with both hands while we still have our kids with us. I’m not saying we should enjoy every moment because so many moments of motherhood are not enjoyable at all. The days are long, and some of them really suck. But the years — the years are short, and we only get so many of them before they’re gone. We can’t go back and do it over again. We only get one chance at our children’s childhoods.
So maybe we set aside the important for the more important more often. Maybe we push through the tired when our tweens and teens want to have those late-night conversations without pushing them to bed too soon. Maybe we take our kids on more one-on-one dates. Maybe we make more time to play together, read together, eat together, do more traveling, and have more experiences as a family unit before that unit starts to break apart.
We’ve got to grab hold of the years while they’re right here in front of us, because before we know it, they’ll have slipped right through our fingers. Hold them now, with both hands, before they pass. Make the most of the time you have with your kids while they’re still kids. Don’t wait until you find yourself staring at a full-grown version of your baby, wondering where the time went and how it all went by so fast.