I’m gonna miss this (revised)
posted on August 23, 2010
If you are a mother, I’d venture to say you probably have, too.
I had an experience that moved me a few years ago, though. It was an evening I spent bathing my children that very literally revolutionized my perspective on mothering. Longing to tell you all about it, I shared a similar version of this post a while back. And now that we have a tiny, helpless, amazing, sweet, grunting newborn in the house again, living in the moment has risen back to the top of my priority list. I rewrote my post and share this version with you now, because I am more determined than ever this fifth time around to constantly remember that I’m gonna miss this. I long for that awareness for all mothers. You see, remembering that little truth, knowing that I am guaranteed to look back years from now and miss this arduous time mothering young children, is making these very first weeks of having a newborn some of the most precious days I have ever lived.
I hope that my thoughts here might speak to and encourage some other tired mothers out there. (And, to be honest, I’m posting it as much as a reminder for me as I am for you.) Here goes.
I am frequently asked, “How do you do it? How do you stay so calm with young children? I would go crazy with five so little!”
The answer? I’m not entirely sure. Part of it is just how God made me, I think. I have long felt that I was fashioned to be a mother. The Lord knew before the dawn of time that my husband and I would be blessed with five children within the span of five years. And while I certainly have my faults, many of which you are aware of as I am not afraid to blog about my failures and struggles, I will say that I am pretty calm with our children. Patience is something the Lord has blessed me with, and I am so thankful. Even though that is true, there are also times in my mothering when I stay calm in the midst of chaos because, frankly, it’s better than the alternative. You know, the whole I’m laughing just to keep myself from crying thing. Yeah, that. A shrieking mama going ballistic over a slammed door, spilled milk or baby woken from his nap by an older sibling is not going to make an already stressful situation any better for anyone concerned. So, for the most part, I stay calm, trying not to escalate any already challenging moments. And believe me, our family has plenty of them. For some time now, my focus has been on attempting to be in the moment with my children as much as I can. I don’t always succeed, yet that is always my goal.
But how did I get to be this way? To have this kind of perspective?
As I said, a beautiful bit of inspiration descended upon me almost two years ago. Right during bathtime. It was an inspiration which changed my parenting from that day forward. I’m not exaggerating or being facetious when I say that keeping this one little truth in mind makes it as easy as apple pie for me to stay calm. Yes even in the midst of toddler meltdowns, preschool tantrums, that afternoon we skipped naps and went to Target, and the much dreaded witching hour.
In times like those, I can stay calm, being grateful for my children even when things are stressful, because I remember that I’m gonna miss this.
Let me start at the beginning. It was dark out, I was wrapping up bathtime, and my husband was still at work. I was doing dinner, baths and bedtime myself those days. I can’t be entirely certain, but I’m sure it had been a long day with the kids. Most of the days were. Come to think of it, they still are. At that time, our oldest little guy was three, our second son was one and a half and our baby girl was a newborn. It is as clear as day still, this bathtime memory.
I was sitting on the toilet, hunched over the tub, preparing to get MckNugget out of the bath, sweating. Warm water and many warm bodies made our tiny bathroom, well, warm. Small Fry, too young to bathe with her brothers, was sprawled on the floor of the bathroom perched atop some towels that were possibly clean. And possibly not. She was sporting nothing but a diaper and a grimace. Big Mac was still in the tub; I hadn’t washed his hair yet. He was squawking to get out, saying something about the water no longer being warm enough, and Small Fry was bellyaching for attention. Or milk. You know, normal newborn stuff. For a litany of reasons, not the least of which was my utter fatigue, bathtime needed to come to a close. Pajamas were waiting; my pillow was audibly calling my name. I lifted Nuggey up out of the tub and wrapped my drenched second born in his green, hooded dinosaur towel. There was no sense getting worked up, at least on the outside. So I determined to stay calm and cuddled him in terrycloth while his siblings continued to whimper and whine. I slowly rocked him back and forth in my arms and sang Rock-a-bye Baby to my clean toddler. It was a routine, singing that song after I got our children out of the bath. We did it every night. One time through the song for each child.
As I wrapped up the song, I prepared to sit Nuggey up and attend to the deafening chaos that was the other children. After all, there was another boy to finish washing, teeth to brush, an empty belly to fill with breastmilk, diapers to find, jammies to slip on and beds to tuck children into. But as he sensed me about to right him, Nuggey tossed his wet head back into the crook of my arm and looked up at me, his forehead still glistening with bath water, some residual bubbles in his hair. “Uh-gain!” he squealed, his eyes twinkling.
Like the good mother I tried to be, I sang Rock-a-bye Baby one more time, but I told him firmly that it would most certainly be the last. My blood pressure was rising as the heat and noise continued to permeate the bathroom. Our other two children were giving no signs of calming down, and I was tired. Not only did I not want to sing any more, I was fairly certainly I physically couldn’t. Yet when I finished singing the second time around, Nuggey begged in his sweet, young voice once again for more.
I didn’t want to do more. My desire to be with my children at that point could definitely have been measured in the negative. As in, below zero. Less than no desire. I didn’t want to sing to him one more time. I was tired. Tired of children, tired of singing, tired of bubbles, tired of voices, tired of being awake, tired of diapers, tired of…well, you get the idea. Lengthening the day with any more singing was the last thing I wanted to do. But then suddenly, it was as if supernatural fairy dust was sprinkled from the heavens directly onto my head. A crystal clear glimpse of my very own future spread out before me.
All at once I knew that I was gonna miss this.
I was looking down at little Nuggey when this vision of sorts appeared to me. My son’s damp eyelashes, beautiful, long and dark, were batting at me. His tiny bottom was cradled in my hand, his soft, chubby legs thrown over my arm, his dinosaur toweled body entirely dependent on the strength of my tired arms as I held him in my lap. Yes, suddenly I could see my future. I was still sitting on the edge of the toilet, looking towards the open bathroom door. Nuggey, now a grown young man sporting a football jersey and facial hair, walked past the doorway down the hall, smelling of cologne and talking on his cell phone, waving at me as he walked by. It was going to happen. And soon. While I firmly believe that joys I won’t expect will also arrive when that time in my life comes, when our young children are teenagers and beyond, it still struck me like a ton of bricks. It was frightening, overwhelming and a bit horrific to me as a young mother. Tears began to fill my tired eyes.
I knew that when my children were grown, I was gonna miss this.
When Nuggey (or Big Mac or Stellan or baby Flurry or our sweet Small Fry) comes home from college, gives me a high five, asks for some money and then hibernates in his bedroom all summer listening to music, I’m gonna miss this. With that sprinkle of fairy dust, my future was shown to me in fast forward that evening. I was given the insight that my older self would give anything for 20 year old Nuggey to be a toddler again. Even if for just for one hour, heck even one minute, I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that I would love to rock him, sing and stroke his wet hair. But I won’t be able to. Once our children are grown, they are grown. There is no going back to toddlerhood, not for a day. Or an hour. Or a minute. I will have to be content with my adult children. I’m sure I will be and will look forward with much joy to grandchildren and beyond. But I am still positive that I’m gonna miss this.
And that night in the bathroom, years before the future I could clearly see even took place, I was being given my wish. Miraculously, I was able to rock Nuggey, a nearly helpless babe in arms, one more time. And then another time after that. And yet another. My world turned upside down as I began to see that the life I am living right now, the endless days that give me bags under my eyes and pounding headaches, are a dream come true. I am living a granted wish in reverse, and I finally realized it.
Given a breathtaking new perspective from which to see, I wiped the tears from my eyes and sang Rock-a-bye Baby as many times as Nuggey would let me that night. I lost count. As I rocked him, hot tears fell from my eyes onto the dinosaur towel. Eventually Small Fry found her hands and started admiring them. Or maybe she got one of her fingers into her mouth and started sucking it like MckFlurry often does these days. Big Mac grabbed a new tub toy and started splashing away, singing the ABC’s to himself. And more intensely than I ever had before, I relished that time with Nuggey in my arms. The love I felt for him at that moment, the gratefulness that he was still little, still with me, was so intense that it hurt. For now I knew then that soon enough he would be all grown and my arms would ache to hold him like a baby again. Even once.
Indeed, I’m gonna miss this.
My mind cannot help, now that I think about that evening again, but wander to those parents who have buried children. I have known friends who have experienced loss and have read blogs chronicling grief. Is there anything on earth those dear parents would not give to hold their children again, even for a moment!? In a million, trillion years they would not complain to themselves about having to sing Rock-a-bye Baby one more time, or losing sleep, or fingerprints on the glass, or peanut butter in their hair. Rather, I imagine mothers who have lost children would give their right arm and their left to be able to sit with their child and sing Rock-a-bye Baby until their voice was hoarse, their eyelids closing in slumber.
And women with empty wombs who pray and ache for children, yet remain with longing arms? What honor am I doing them if I take for granted the fact that I have children, healthy young children who are begging me to cuddle them, sing to them, build train tracks with them, come look at what they drew and listen to their jokes? For myself and those women who long for their own children, I decided that night to love my babies, not taking them for granted. To sing to them when they ask. And clean up their Cheerios without grumbling. Even to tuck them in for the seventh time in one night. Or seventeenth.
Right there and then, sweaty as I sat on the edge of the toilet in the bathroom that night not so long ago, I vowed to try my best to be ever thankful for the moments I do have with my children. Oh Lord, help me not wish away their young years, always hoping to get more laundry done or other children dried off. I desire to not live my mornings only for the hope of naptime, my afternoons with just bedtime in mind. I will relish each kiss, hug and song; I’ll let dishes pile up because I was asked to play Chutes and Ladders. I will teach our little ones to pick up their toys, even if it takes months of reminders. By wiping bottoms, telling the story of Jonah and the whale just one more time, smelling MckFlurry’s newborn head, kissing booboos (even pretend ones) and playing house, I will leave their childhood behind with no regrets. For I desire that no “I love you” is left unsaid, no cheek remains unkissed, no request to “Cuddle wif’ me!” will ever be turned down and no child awakened by a thunderstorm will be turned away from our bed. Even as the fish sticks with tartar sauce fly and the Sharpie stains our kitchen table, when there are 3 am blowouts and caked Desitin under my fingernails, as I am awakened every three hours around the clock to nurse our newborn and my body carries around more baby weight than I fear I’ll ever be able to get rid of, I know now that…
…I’m gonna miss this.