“It all goes by so fast. You blink and they’re grown!”
We’ve all heard it. We’ve heard it in waiting rooms, libraries, grocery store aisles – usually when the baby has thrown up all over himself and the toddler is into the sugary cereal boxes and the four year old is jumping from foot to foot wanting to use the bathroom. Some kind old lady has had the audacity to tell us to “cherish every moment” of this animal called motherhood.
It all goes by so fast, she repeats as we roll our eyes internally.
“It isn’t possible to cherish every moment!” we retort under our breath, but we smile at the nice woman and shuffle the four year old to the bathroom, leaving a small trail of cereal and anxiety in our wake.
In the bathroom, over the din of the hand dryer and the excited squeals over the soap bubbles, we wish it would go by faster: this time of child raising, this time of repeating everything, this day in and day out teaching, training, diapering, a life exhausted, poured out in service of those too young, too distracted, to appreciate what we are doing.
Later, to our friends, online, elsewhere, we declare we can’t wait for the next thing when we can breathe – when the children are walking, talking, at school, grown up, married, gone.
Are we really so sick of our children that we want them gone? I need to know. Because I’ve been seeing it more than I care to admit – this disdain for our role, this wishing away of our own flesh and blood.
Of course there are days when we are weary, of course it is incredibly hard to do what we do day in and day out, but is it honestly, at its core, is it really so horrible and so burdensome that we publicly claim to be thrilled to get rid of the same children we claim to love with a fierceness bordering on violence?
I really must know.
Is motherhood really that much of a burden? Are our kids that much of a weight on our shoulders that we want to publicly rejoice – for all to see – when they go away for long chunks of time?
Look, I get it. The days are long – longer than long and they have a tendency to run into the night. But is that all we’re doing? Marking time like prisoners, waiting for escape, counting down to the hour of our release?
I need to know.
It’s All Work and That’s Not Bad
Washington Post recently published this story about parents sick of summertime and waiting for school to begin. The biggest word that stuck out at me in the article was “entertained.” No one can be entertained for three months!
Our heads are full of images of families having fun together – being entertained, on water slides and in the movies, on boats and fishing, running around, squealing, picnicking. Instead, we have children that sulk, complain, are bored; we have children who squabble, scream, cry and throw things.
Is this the reason then that moms are found counting down the days to the most wonderful time of the year on Facebook and elsewhere? Have we so easily bought the lie that entertainment is what’s most important, not just to the children but to us as well?
Or could it be that we somehow are forgetting to teach the children the same lessons we know to be true in our own lives – that it’s not all fun and games, that, when it comes right down to it, what we do all day doesn’t have to be “fun” to be fun, that work is good, and fulfilling, and rewarding?
Redeeming the Time
I don’t claim to know it all. I have often – way too often – complained about my lot, drowned myself in self-pity. I have gleefully thought of days away from my family and time to myself.
In my experience and the experience of many, it isn’t the picnics and the fishing that bring families closer (although of course there’s a place for that), it’s the humble, day in, day out, shoulder-to-shoulder work. I have realized, repeatedly, then that it isn’t my children, or the labor they require I should be dreading, it’s the false pictures in my head and their siren song.
I do adore seeing my children smile, laugh, play in puddles, run through sprinklers, shouting, come down the slide exhilarated, but do you know when my love is even fiercer?
When they’re trying to form letters, trying to grip the pencil just right. I delight in them when they’re trying hard to read, struggling over consonants like walls, then climbing over them, victorious. I cherish them when they work together, hard, when one of them learns that, no matter what, he must learn to love his brother; I celebrate them when, with every ounce of determination in her, she will sit at the desk and solve her math problems and, because she so is diligent, will get better at them, even if it is infinitesimally so.
I want to bundle up moments when the two year old remembers to put his toys away with his pudgy fingers, the last of toddlerhood clinging to them. I want to store these moments in a corner of my memory forever, to call on them on those days when hours seem longer than long.
I want to remember that joy often comes dressed as work.
Dare I say that the kind old woman at the grocery store is right? That it is possible, after all, to cherish much of what we miss in this wishing away of our own labor?
Just a thought.