“Enjoy it,” the lady behind me in line at Target says, “It goes by so fast.”
It’s not the first time I’ve heard this.
I’ve also heard, “It’s over before you know it.”
“They grow up so fast. She’ll be a teenager in the blink of an eye.”
“You’ll wake up one day, and she’ll be about to get married.”
I mean, if I had a burrito for the number of people who’ve felt compelled to insinuate that I’m not appreciating every single moment as a mother, I’d be very unhealthy, extremely full, and horrendously stinky, because I’ve heard things like this a lot. And you probably have too if you’re a parent.
For a really long time, sayings of this variety made me want to punch the people who said them in the face. That’s because sometimes these comments come at really awkward times, like when I’ve been totally in the to-do list zone, my 15-month-old finally occupied in the shopping cart, chomping away at a cracker I pulled from the shelf like a life preserver as a way to redirect her from the owl mug display.
Sometimes these comments have come when I’m clearly harried and exhausted, with tangled hair and socks that don’t match, a 23-pound kid about to fall out from under my arm as I make a beeline for the exit of wherever we are. Not right then, of course, but they offer them, like right after, as if they’ve been watching me struggle, as if they think they’re making me feel better with their “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” words.
And sometimes I’ve been very strongly compelled to say back, “What are you implying? That I’m not totally in awe of each precious minute with my kid?” rather than the obligatory, disingenuous response (which is what I do offer) that’s something like, “Oh yeah? OK. Totally”—so that I can hurry off to the car before the pending meltdown.
But now I understand.
I understand that these comments have nothing to do with me and how I seem with my child, and everything to do with them and how they feel.
Tonight, as I was snuggled up to my baby girl, ahem, now 19-month old toddler, she went through a litany of good nights, “Night night Elmo; night night Abby; night night Henry; night night Dada; night night owl; night night grandma…” and on and on, and I thought about the last few days.
There’s been an explosion of language, of communication, of emotional expression. There are at least three new words every single day. She begs us to recite the alphabet. She’s saying so many multiple-word phrases I can’t even count them. It’s kind of blowing my mind.
But it’s not always brilliance and beautiful mommy-and-me moments over here either. There are hard times. There have been so many hard times.
That first week of breastfeeding.
The witching hour which seemed to last for months.
The postpartum anxiety.
The mom guilt.
And currently, tantrums. Not fun.
It, the good and the bad, the moment I mastered the swaddle, the time she finally weaned, after so many struggles, and now, this new fireworks display of language and emotion that makes those first words look exactly like what they were—baby talk—really has happened in the blink of an eye.
It’s like I’m on this ridiculously fun and simultaneously terrifying roller coaster where I’m bracing for the drop, anticipating it, waiting for it, but wanting it not to come at the same time. Because you know what they say, “It goes by soooo fast.”
Well, it really truly does.
Didn’t I just spend the hardest 36-hours of my life in labor, only to see my baby girl, blue and limp, be whisked across the delivery room, and suctioned until she finally screamed?
Didn’t I just practically drown in tears of happiness when she was laid on my chest safe and sound, her skin pink and perfect within mere minutes of that bruised beginning, my little filet warmed by life and love?
Didn’t I just sob at the hospital because all of the “first” outfits I brought for my newborn were entirely too large and I wanted her to “look cute” for her ride home?
Didn’t I just ache from exhaustion, from post-birth pain, from the swell of parental love so powerful I thought it might wash me away, all at the same time?
Didn’t that all just happen seconds ago?
And that’s what that lady in Target is feeling, as she watches my round-faced blonde-headed baby-toddler-creature try to stand up in a moving cart, because bubbles.
The lady is thinking about her experiences as she observes mine.
She’s thinking about where she’s been. About the first moments. The hard moments. The ones in which she was distracted and might have missed something. The ones that made her so happy she cried. She’s thinking about her own baby, who maybe isn’t a baby anymore. And she’s thinking about all sorts of things I haven’t yet experienced.
She’s telling me what she wishes she had believed herself.
They change overnight. They grow out of everything as soon as you’ve bought it. They morph from newborn to Xbox junkie in what feels like a few hours, even though sometimes it seems the pot will never boil, like they’ll never walk, or talk, or make it to the next milestone. They grow up so fast.
She’s wistful and envious and thrilled for me, because she’s been there, on the same wild ride, waiting for and dreading the drop. That type of motherhood is over for her, and she misses it.
So next time anyone says to me, “Before you know it, she’ll be getting her driver’s license. Savor every single instant,” I’ll smile, for real, and say, “Thank you. I absolutely will.”