You’re going to wish you could have it back—all of it. Even that lousy night last week, when the dinner was burning and the dogs were barking and the infant was screeching while pounding her fists on the table demanding more Cheerios like a less hirsute King Kong and the 3-year-old was wailing and gnashing his teeth as if you just personally cast him into the outer darkness for eternity instead of simply denying him a third glass of chocolate milk.
The trouble is: The plain damn trouble of keeping young kids alive is daunting. Let’s be honest—a lot of parenting consists of willing the hours forward, counting down the minutes until the godforsaken Mickey Mouse Clubhouse episode is finally over, or checking your watch to see how much closer you are to bedtime when you can finally finish your own work, or read, or just watch a TV program that doesn’t incorporate actual pauses for you to participate in the show. When parenting is at its worst, there will be moments when you entirely understand why some species eat their young, and that’s OK.
All in all, it’s enough to distract you from the reality that what you’re seeing is a temporary exhibition. Give it a few months, and chances are, you’ll never see your kids in this phase of life again.
In my case, my daughter is probably our last kid—assuming the wife’s tubal ligation took—so I find myself saying goodbye to milestones I’ll never see again: the last toothless smile, the tiny hand instinctively clutching an index finger, the impossible transition from army-crawling to crawling to standing (and even a step or two) over the course of just a few nights.
I should have known this, because it already happened with our son, but it’s easy to forget. I can’t tell you exactly how he went from bashing his fists together in an almost threatening approximation of sign language for “more” to uttering “num-num” and jutting out his open mouth for the waiting spoon. And then it all turns to “more please?” and then yesterday morning’s “Daddy, may I have some more juice please?” which made me wonder who had whisked away my kid on an all-expenses-paid trip to finishing school.
The point is obvious enough: Whatever age your kid is, everything that comes with it is here, and then it’s gone. So amid the stress, remember to savor the experience with your young kids, in spite of everything. After all, it’s the only chance you have.
This post originally appeared on Fatherly.