Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Don’t Blink

“Did I miss it?”  

That’s the phrase that keeps running through my mind this week. I lie in bed and think of all the changes and milestones that are flying at us...and I panic.  

Did I miss it? Did my kids grow up overnight without me realizing? Was I too busy working? Too tired to focus? Too engrossed in the day-to-day to see the cumulative passage of time? Have the baby-days passed me by? 

This is a big week in our house, and (clearly) it’s producing some big emotions and some big anxiety for me. Miller’s birthday is Wednesday. He’ll be three, which means my youngest baby isn’t a baby at all- or even a toddler- but an actual kid. Piper starts at a new school on Thursday, and even though she’s been in daycare or school since she was a wee little lass, this full-time elementary stuff feels pretty serious. Fin is off to Kindergarten next week, and while I’m not really worried about that transition (she’ll be at the same school as last year, with Piper’s old teacher, following her same 3 day a week schedule) it is still one more time-marking change in the mix. 

One second ago, it was June, and we had our whole Summer bucket list in front of us. 
One minute ago, I had my first newborn, and the idea of her going "back to school" was no more real to me than self-driving cars. (my my my how things have changed...)

But now the calendar pages have all flipped like a time-lapse video gone wrong, and I’m suddenly surrounded by a bunch of backpack-sporting big kids, poised to take on the world without me. The future is now, and I'm not sure I'm ready.

Our Summer is over. 
Our “preschool” days are over.

We’re hurdling towards a new stage of life, and I’m struggling to make peace with it all. I want to be optimistic, look ahead, and make plans to make the most of what’s to come, but I’m preoccupied with my self-imposed grade card for the days gone by. The last 6+ years went as fast as all of the old ladies in the grocery store warned they would, and that frantic pace leaves me feeling frantic. With over half a decade of child-rearing in the rearview, my hindsight is on overdrive.

Did I make the right choices? Did I prioritize the right things? Did I make it all count? Did I savor it? Or did I blink? Did I blink and miss my only chance at shaping, embracing, and enjoying my kids’ childhoods? 

I know this mindset is over dramatic. I know my kids are still so little in so many ways. I know life hasn't passed me by. I knooooooow there is SO much more goodness still to come. 

And yet. I can't stop the sadness that creeps in when it's quiet. I can't fend off the bittersweet feelings of letting go of the old and embracing the new. I can't eliminate that seed of doubt that maybe I'm doing everything wrong. Maybe I had it all backwards. Maybe it wasn't enough. Maybe I wasn't enough. 

I see my clever, lanky, first-grader and I wonder if I kissed her chubby knees enough while they were still chubby...
I watch my witty, confident kindergartner bound off to new adventures without even a tentative glance back, and I sense that her days of needing my arms for comfort are behind us...
I snuggle my face into the neck of my impossible and precious nearly-three-year-old, and fear he'll soon be too cool for his best-friend-mommy and my smothering stream of snuggles...
Time is a thief. 
A sneaky, cruel thief.

And so I do what every mom does in this situation: I attempt to stop time. I silently beg for all of the goodness to freeze. I whom? to what?...for a pause. It’s desperate, and futile, but also irresistibly attractive. What I wouldn’t give for just one more moment of all that I love about right now; for peace over the way I handled the past; for wisdom and perspective as I approach what's next. 

You get one shot at this parenting thing (well…maybe I get three shots…but that’s really just three chances for me to screw each kid up in a new and unique way). There are no manuals to ensure you do it right, and no do-overs to fix what went wrong. Time marches forward relentlessly. You spend it how you spend it, and there are no refunds. sands through the hourglass...

Looking back on our little kid years it’s easy to be critical of myself. I did work a lot. I did spend a lot of time away from my kids. I did prioritize things above them. I did value the wrong stuff, miss the little joys, and take things for granted. I still do. Is it wrong? Do I regret it? Will I regret it? Yes...No...Maybe. I just don’t know. 

Being a parent is a constant experiment. It’s wrestling with your beliefs, and negotiating your to-dos. It’s building up rhythms, and making concessions. It’s giving everything you have, and getting used to falling short. It’s the world’s slowest and most daunting task, that somehow flies by in an instant. In a blink. 

So especially on the eve of a birthday, or the night before school, I deeply feel the poignancy of all the days of yore. I want to embed all the memories all in my heart; every single gummy-grinned, sticky-handed, stinky-bummed moment (ok...maybe not those last ones...) locking them up as mementos and medals of a life well lived. But in my desperation to soak it all up and take it all in, I don’t want to end up in a wild-eyed, white-knuckled panic.

I can’t go through the rest of their lives- the rest of my life- afraid to blink. 

Childhood is fleeting, yes, but opportunities to embrace it aren’t scarce. The idea that I have missed it is a lie, because it’s not over. Perhaps the greatest truth of all is that after each sunset there is a sunrise. We are not guaranteed tomorrow, there is at least today. So though I hate the idea that I may have wasted some of my yesterdays, I don’t want to let that regret ruin however many todays I have. And that is, admittedly, hopelessly cliché, but so are so many of the emotions of motherhood. My plight, my fears, and my midnight panics are not unique. I’m not alone in tearing up in the elementary school hallway, and I’m not the only one staying up way too late flipping through photo archives from my babies’ babiest days. The instinct to cling to the joys and comforts of each season is natural, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. I know that the unwillingness to let go will leave me with no free hands to receive the gifts yet to come.

So I loosen my grip. I pry myself open with the hope of more. I soothe my wild fears with the truth of abundance. I combat my self-criticism with the gift of grace. And I allow myself to blink. 
Everything...all of the responsibility and all of the possibility; the darkness and the light... will still be there when I open my eyes again. And perhaps then, after even just the briefest of rests, I’ll be able to see it even more clearly


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