They Grow Up so Fast
“Hold onto these days. They grow up so fast.”
These lines were delivered to me often when my kids were toddler-aged. I’d have Gage weighing down the sling on my hip and Jack dragging me over to see something that piqued his interest — usually a piece of construction equipment. My shoulder and back would be throbbing from Gage’s growing weight, and all I wanted to do was sit down.
The “they grow up so fast” people were usually older female relatives — women whose children had been out of diapers for 25 years. I get it. My kids were adorable, smart, funny and entertaining (just like everyone’s). And when you don’t have to wake up in the middle of the night with those kids, feed them seventeen snacks a day, change diapers, explore every public toilet in a ten-mile radius of your home and listen to them make noise ALL DAY LONG, it’s easy to be nostalgic for all of the funny things they say and do.
“Cherish it,” they said. “They’ll be grown before you know it.”
I would smile tightly and continue sponging the spit-up off the maternity shirt I was still wearing. But in my head…
I AM cherishing it, damn it! But will somebody PLEASE acknowledge how fucking hard this is? I am ON as Mom fifteen hours a day; the other nine, I’m on call. I work nights, weekends and holidays — ALL OF THEM! I love these little dudes with all of my heart, body and soul, but I just want to SIT DOWN.
Aunt Kackie was the rare voice of realism:
“I remember that age. It’s hard.”
At one family Christmas gathering, as I whooshed in with both kids attached to my body, dropped a bag of presents on the floor and began unpacking snacks and whatnot in her kitchen, she looked at me, really took in the scene, and said, “Wow, you are really in the middle of it.” She made me feel seen and sane.
I also had a group of moms I’d met during prenatal yoga and a few more I managed to find in a meetup group that were cherishing their kiddos but also asking…
“How do I get this kid to take a freaking nap?”
“Have you ever noticed that motherhood can be both exhausting and boring at the same time?”
“Does your kid projectile vomit every feeding?”
But things changed, as they tend to do.
A while back, I was at an outdoor exercise class. One woman had brought her toddler, as I had done so many times when my children were too young to be left at home playing video games. The child would sit on her designated yoga mat for a while; then she’d get this sparkle in her eye, this devilish grin, and sprint (so far as a two-year-old can sprint) off the basketball court toward the parking lot. Her mother would yell her name and run after her.
Every time that little girl took off, I smiled and suppressed a giggle. She was headstrong, carefree, energetic and devoid of inhibition in a way only young children are. But I also saw the look on her mother’s face, the fatigue, the exasperation, the desperation to do something for herself — just complete this forty-minute class without playing minion and protector to a little self-centered tyrant. I remembered.
My kids are about to be fifteen and twelve.
Time has sped up in an odd way. Baby and toddler time is intense, and yet it drags. I tried to live in the moment in those days, but it’s hard not to yearn for your kids to get old enough to dress themselves, make their own lunches, and walk to the park to play with friends on their own. Especially if you need alone time as I do.
I’m finding teenager time more relaxed, and yet it is speeding up, each day feeling like it goes by faster than the one before it. I smile when I see pictures of them at two and five years old. We tell stories of the cute and precocious things they said and did during those years, but man, they are so great now.
When we spend time together, we are hanging out, working together or having an interesting conversation. We are not reading the same train book for the eightieth time, playing basketball only according to Jack’s rules, or chasing Gage so he doesn’t run into traffic or fall in the pool. (He thought both of these dangers were hilarious to flirt with.)
Instead of me struggling to make a dinner everyone will tolerate while trying to entertain and involve the kids at the same time (oh my god, so exhausting), they actually help. “Help” is important when they're little so that eventually, they will be able to actually help, and it is finally paying off. Jack can grill hamburgers or steaks without any help from me. Gage makes complex salads of his own devising. They wash dishes, wipe tables and store leftovers; they don’t even complain about it (very often).
I find it much easier to bask in this era of our lives. It’s when all that child development shit I did when they were little starts to manifest itself in functional, pleasant-to-be-around proto-adults.
Teenagehood is not without its challenges.
I worry about the choices they make, their emotional states, about whether they are headed toward what I want for them — adult lives with which, ultimately, they feel satisfied and free to do as they choose. They are emotional (Don’t let anyone tell you it’s just girls.) and hormonal which, ironically, I kinda relate to in my peri-menopausal, puberty-in-reverse state. It might not manifest the same, but I understand angry/sad/tired/annoyed for no discernable reason. I still find it easy to roll around in the glory of their independence and the wonderful conversations we can now have.
One day, they won’t live in this house with us anymore.
We’ll start a new chapter of our lives, all four of us, the kids as new adults out in the world and Jason and me as a couple whose lives no longer revolve around soccer games and public school schedules. But I will have these times in my memory to visit and smile upon because I can cherish them quite easily. These memories and the general feeling of them — one of reward and satisfaction that maybe I’m doing this parenting thing all right — will be etched in my brain. I find that since I’m no longer so busy keeping young children fed, clothed, entertained and out of traffic, I have more time and energy to make memories.
Toddlers are great. They are amazing little creatures, and it’s often easier to appreciate that when they’re not yours. When you have the luxury of watching them from afar or giving them back when they get upset or need a diaper change. Because even the easiest toddler is high fucking maintenance.
My experience with teenagers, which I recognize is just mine, just one way it can go, just one perspective, is that they are also amazing, bigger creatures. They can be easier to keep alive, as they are less prone to eating sand that smells suspiciously like cat shit. Or maybe it’s just that with teenagers, we are forced to take a step back. They take the reins, and it’s now up to them whether or not they eat the cat shit sand (hence the extra dose of worry). But I like it this way. Even if I have less control, it feels better.
This teenage stage isn’t as bad as everyone says.
Sure, they can be moody, but who am I to judge? I am the supreme queen of the netherworld of mood swings. And teenagers, unlike younger children, understand nuance and circumstance. You can go beyond “These are the rules” into why those rules sometimes don’t apply. No one told me to cherish these days, and yet I am. Next, the kids will leave the nest and discover how they want to live their adult lives. Maybe they’ll find partners to share life with. Maybe they’ll even have little tyrant toddlers of their own. Yeah. That sounds good. Let’s talk grandchildren….