Every mother has had the same experience while they are holding their infant children in their arms: a well-meaning relative or older woman approaches them and says, “Treasure these moments. Someday you are going to miss it.” It’s meant to be encouraging to exhausted mothers who can barely keep their eyes open while they are simultaneously questioning every decision they are making concerning their baby and any other children they might be responsible for raising to adulthood. But at the time, most mothers are just thinking about survival, not the distant future when they will miss holding their little bundle of joy.
I heard those words several times when both of my children were infants and toddlers and I understand why I was being told to treasure those moments. It only lasts for a short period of time. One minute you are snuggling a baby that still has that newborn smell and the next you are watching them ride off alone on a bike, exerting independence and demonstrating just one more way they no longer need you.
There were things I loved about my babies. I loved playing with their little fingers and toes and watching them make new, daily discoveries. I loved holding their tiny bodies in my arms, knowing that I could keep them safe there, even if it was only for a little while. I loved watching first steps and growing language skills and the reckless abandon that characterized their playtime as they weren’t concerned about what other people thought.
I loved all of those things about my own children’s early childhood, but I don’t miss it.
And maybe it’s just me. I went into high school education for a reason, and not just because I like to read and write and discuss young adult and adult literature and the process of writing. If I’m being perfectly honest, little humans scare me. One summer long before having children, I volunteered for our church’s Vacation Bible School and my sister and I were put in charge of the story presentations. We had to present to different age groups all morning long. My comfort steadily decreased as each group got younger and younger. When the kindergarteners finally came in, I nearly lost my mind. The same thing was true several years later when we stupidly decided to host a birthday party for our daughter’s sixth birthday. We invited fifteen five and six-year-olds to a science museum and then had to manage all of them as they ran around exploring the hands-on exhibits. My deep respect for early childhood educators grew as I tried to manage a crew of inquisitive little people intent on wandering off towards anything that caught their eyes. I was overwhelmed by the energy it took to keep all of them focused on one task.
Despite these personal failings when it comes to other people’s small children, I’ve never had a problem with my own little humans. I’ve loved watching my kids grow through every stage of their lives so far. I remember dreading the “terrible twos” only to discover that two was so much fun. Our kids started speaking and expressing and developing personalities and it only made me look forward to the people they were going to grow up to be. I loved their snuggles and giggles and inexplicable joy at the little things. I see memories pop up in my Facebook feed and my heart overflows with joy at the beautiful parenting moments that our family has shared together.
But there is so much about those early years that I just do not miss.
Lost sleep, diapers, bottles, food messes, spit-up, carrying increasingly heavier babies around, strollers (although I do sometimes miss having the excuse of a stroller for carrying supplies when we’re someplace like the zoo), baby carriers, inexplicable crying with no way to verbally communicate what is wrong, fighting flailing limbs as we try to get clothes onto them, the loss of lazy Saturday mornings, the inability to focus in church, and the list goes on.
Several years ago I read a blog post about the sweet spot. It felt like we were still years away from that ever being us, but the post gave me hope. It wasn’t that I wasn’t enjoying watching our kids grow up. I’ve loved every new stage, each with a new perspective and insight into the people our children are growing up to be. As our kids have moved from one stage to the next, I’ve tried to embrace the new and, sometimes begrudgingly, let go of the previous stage. When old pictures of chubby cheeks and gleeful smiles pop up I sigh, sniffle, and then happily remember the digitally captured moments before moving on to the here and now.
But we’ve arrived in the elusive sweet spot. During the week our kids can pick out their own clothes and dress themselves (with occasional corrections when our son insists on wearing shorts when it’s 30 degrees or our daughter tries to wear a shirt that doesn’t fit dress code). On Saturday mornings our kids can get their own breakfast and turn on what they want to watch (and 99% of the time they make good choices). They can jump into the pool and they don’t need further assistance (although we still make sure they have supervision). They can play in the backyard and play basketball in our driveway and they don’t need help. It took too long, but we felt victorious when both of our kids finally got off of training wheels, allowing for easier family bike rides and now our daughter can ride her bike to piano by herself. They can make macaroni and cheese and quesadillas with only a little supervision and our son gladly makes himself peanut butter sandwiches when the hunger hits. They can read to themselves and now we can have full family read-ins. They are fully capable of helping with chores and taking responsibility for keeping our family and home fully functioning. They are realizing and slowly exerting their independence but still fully enjoy being together as a family. In short, they don’t hate us yet.
No matter the stage, being a parent is still work. Each phase just brings a different kind of work and with each phase of parenthood we have tried to embrace how our roles have changed. And even though being a parent to a 10 and soon-to-be 8-year-old is still hard work, I’m loving this stage.
Family camping trips have become increasingly fun as the kids jump in to help with setting up camp and beg to play intellectually challenging games; we can also go on hikes and bike rides without baby carriers and tow-behind trailers. My daughter wants to snuggle in her bed and have deep conversations about life, the world, and growing up, and she still believes that I’m the ultimate authority in all of those things. When I read aloud to them they aren’t just listening to the story, they stop me to talk and discuss and suddenly I get to use my teaching skills with my own children. They still love to play together and have some common interests, losing themselves in worlds that we know aren’t going to exist much longer. They love their friends but they would still rather be with us. They are learning and growing and sharing and they still welcome us into that experience and we gladly participate.
No, there is a lot about the baby and toddler years that I do not miss, but you know what I am going to miss?
I’m going to miss snuggling up under a blanket to read bedtime stories. I’m going to miss watching them create entire worlds with their stuffed animals and other toys. I’m going to miss ridiculous explanations for rocket ships powered by the sun and how it is going to be an engineering feat that is going to make my son rich. I’m actually going to miss little kid soccer and basketball games where the kids are showing growth in skill but the competition hasn’t yet become cutthroat. I’m going to miss hugs and a hearing “Mommy, I love you.” I’m going to miss their desire to be with us more than with their friends. I’m going to miss parenting before hormones and changing bodies complicate their lives and ours.
We are quickly approaching puberty and pre-adolescence and we are not looking forward to it. I’m not looking forward to re-living my own painfully awkward adolescence and attempting to wisely guide my little girl through it. I’m not looking forward to a return to nonsensical mood swings. I’m not looking forward to trying to advise through the inevitable middle school fights with friends. I’m not looking forward to crushes and boyfriends and girlfriends and trying to help them wisely navigate a dangerous combination of strong emotions and confusing hormones.
But we’re not quite there yet and for that I am thankful. And because our kids are only two years apart we get to experience the sweet spot with both of them together. I know that regardless of the struggles to come we’ll get through the rough years that are quickly approaching; I am also confident in saying that I don’t miss those early years and I have no desire to go back. Instead, I plan to live in the moment that we have and do our best to embrace the moments yet to come.
And as parents, that’s the best that we can do.