The older and wiser warn: “It goes by in the blink of an eye.” But you don’t believe because the days of diaper changes and bottle feedings are long, and the nights awake with the baby screaming due to an ear infection are longer. And you haven’t slept in months and you haven’t done one thing, not one thing, for yourself since college. How can this go by quickly when pieces of you are slowly dying?
When the children start to sleep through the night, they throw fits during the day. And you step over one screaming, in the prone position, on the kitchen floor as you open the refrigerator for the milk. He tries to grab your leg, but you shake him off. And you attempt to carve out an occasional moment to exercise or meet a friend for lunch. Go to dinner with your husband. The babysitter shares with you the evening’s travails, which include sibling fights and one child with an upset stomach. But you tell yourself that it was worth it. You give her a tip so she’ll come back.
You mark the days until school begins because order of some sort is restored. But with school comes homework, and sports and birthday parties and projects. Your days and evenings are tightly orchestrated, and you share nachos with your spouse at the ballpark. One afternoon, while sitting at a red light with an SUV full of children, you wonder, “What did I once do with my spare time?” And you truly don’t remember.
“They are getting so tall,” the older and wiser say. And you look around and notice, yes, they have grown. And so quickly. You mark height on the laundry room wall and buy them new shoes every six months. In the evenings around the dining table, you try to establish table manners because they don’t hold their forks properly and they put elbows on the table and they forget their napkins and they chew with their mouths open. “Thank you, Mom, that was delicious.” But half of the food is still there, so how are they growing so fast?
Suddenly, they start traveling in herds. Over at a friend’s house, riding bikes around the block, spending the night out. Where are they, who are they with, when are they coming home? It is the beginning of them pulling away, and you know it. And you’ve waited so long for a moment alone, but now that it’s here you worry.
Pretty soon, the precious bodies you once scrubbed with tear-free soap are raging with hormones, and sweat and clogged up pores. And the tears they cry over broken relationships and friend drama and missteps cling to your soul. You want to save them from pain, but they have to walk the walk of puberty and adolescence with you only as a guide. And so many times they don’t refer to their guidebook.
But despite all this, they learn and they grow and they change. They move on and they move out. And you survived it, yes you did. You survived their youth, and you are so proud of what they have become.
You see a young mother in the grocery store with a new baby in a carrier and dark circles under her eyes. “It goes by in the blink of an eye,” you say. And she nods, looking doubtful. But you don’t say it for her. You say it for yourself. Because it does. Because it’s true.