I’m finally “enjoying every moment,” even the time when I wasn’t.

by renegademama

I became a mother eighteen years ago and it seems like every day since then, somebody has told me to “enjoy every moment.” I’ve moved from vague pity to nonchalant disinterestedness all the way to outright disdain in response to the advice.

Early on, I thought it was just kinda sad that the women looking at me with a knowing smile were just so, you know, old. Seasoned mothers whose kids had grown, looking at me, twenty-two-years old, all fresh and shit, and there they were with their Old People Regrets.

It’s funny how in your twenties, the suggestions of “old people” are distant whispers from strange humans you’ll never become. It’s strange how we don’t yield to them, recalling how, if all goes well, we’ll be them one day, and maybe they’ve learned something.

Or maybe other people do that. Maybe other people hear these words and think “I shall listen to you because you probably know shit.” I don’t.

But my special talent is somehow always believing myself the exception to the rule. Sure, you look back and wish you’d “enjoyed every moment” because “it goes so fast.” But I won’t. Fuck off.

Why? No clue. How exactly would I be different? No clue. Please don’t bring reason into this.

But something happened to me the day the baby born on November 21, 2001, left our home to finish high school in America, and I found myself surrounded with three of my four kids, feeling always just a little off. She may come here for college. She may stay in California. The letting go snuck up on me, the massive distance. It sounds ridiculous to say.

Something changed in me the morning I saw in her brow a nervousness and sorrow that looked a little like being let down. The day I saw her steel herself and keep on going to the airport—her purse, a bag that used to be mine, crossing her body over her jean jacket, beneath two braids she’d made that morning while singing along in the bathroom to Johnny Cash, and I listened from the next room, my head in my hands, crying, enjoying every moment of her voice.

It all dissolved that morning, what my family had been for so long, and at my own hand, or the passing of time, if there’s a difference.

It was all suddenly different and I saw it. Rocket, fourteen-years-old, standing taller than me. One teenager gone, one taller than me. My nine-year-old, the way she worries what the kids at school think. The way she still has little projects: notes to her friends, drawings, shortbread cookies made all by herself.

Ava used to do that.

 

And I looked at my little one, Arlo, five-years-old. The tail end. The last whisper of little guy. The imaginative play. The curling against your body almost like they’re three. The way they fit in your arms just barely.

There’s a chance I’m a little weird around him now.

I ask him to sing me his school songs and notice the lisp he’ll lose someday. I watch him play with airplanes and knights and dragons and call Mac over to watch him in his little world. Look at him.  

“I know,” Mac says, sighing. He whacks my arm. I tell him I hate him. We both look like we’re about to cry. I think this is how mature adults handle emotion.

I could listen to Arlo’s stories for hours. It’s not hard. Keep speaking. Keep going. Tell me more of your plans.

When I’m cooking and he wants to stir, even when I’m tired and fed up and just want it to be over, I tell him to grab a stool and show him how to hold the spoon and remind him that the pot is hot and I kiss his head when he looks at me and I don’t really ever say, “No, not tonight.”

When he hears me in the bath and asks to join, just when I begin to relax, I remember the way I used keep the door locked and wonder how they always found me. I still wonder that, but it makes me smile. I keep the door cracked. “Yes,” I say. “Just give me ten minutes in here alone.” I say it because I really want him to come in with me. I don’t mind at all.

I want to watch him play Batman under the water. I want to feel his little hug against me. And when he’s there, I’ll remember how I labored with him in the bathtub, how I brought him with me in the bath as a newborn, an infant, a toddler, and how he used to nurse partially submerged, and I’d lay a warm washcloth over the part of his body exposed to the air.

I cuddle with him on the couch and put my phone away. He sleeps in our bed just about every night and I stick my face an inch from his and watch his little hands do nothing under his chin. He falls asleep on my arm and I smell his head, his neck, stare at his bare feet curled behind him.

I tell Mac to look. Look at our baby.

 

So here I am, world, finally, doing what you told me. I’m enjoying every minute! I’m all in, assholes. SOAKING THIS SHIT UP. It’s not that I’m uniformly joyful, never annoyed, never yelling. And I don’t think that’s what they meant when they told us “it goes so fast.” I think they meant, be aware always how quickly this will end. 

That’s where I am now, and thank god it wasn’t always this way. Thank god I didn’t live all these years in this condition—every minute some butterfly just touching down, some joy about to fly away.

I wouldn’t have wanted to live all those years in the full knowledge of what they would mean to me when they were gone, because there was a freedom there, an energy—we were both young.

I don’t think you can be told when your first baby is six-months-old—when you’ll never sleep again and your life has become a pattern of monotony you quite possibly hate and you’re talking too long to the checkout guy and wondering when the baby will crawl—you can’t be told “enjoy every moment; it goes so fast,” because that understanding comes when the non-crawling baby waves at you from a passenger seat on her way into her own life. It comes from the pain of the other side.

It comes when you’re snapped into the finality of it, because there really is a day, you know, when they leave. An actual day. It is very concrete. They are around every day, and then they are not.

 

I couldn’t have lived with this kind of pull on my heart. I couldn’t have taken it all this seriously. I couldn’t have endured the work of those early years if I had to stop every fifteen minutes to enjoy my five-year-old’s nose. The way his curls fall over his eye. The blocks he left in my bed.

Who can live like that? In some state of awe at the little dude jumping off a branch, watching him ride a bike like it’s a fucking symphony. Who can hold this much devotion to something so fleeting, an ache burning always somewhere, a silent grip on what isn’t yours, an hourglass on the counter mocking your old sense of permanence.

I didn’t ask for this shit. I didn’t learn it or guilt or self-talk my way into it. It came one morning when I wasn’t ready, when my first baby sucked the air out of the room and flooded her siblings in light.

I’ve never been very good at learning things without pain. Never been good at listening to others and anticipating and being smart about it. But maybe we learn what we need to learn as life presents itself. Maybe we see more when life becomes more, or less. Maybe that’s how it should be.

I won’t tell a new mother to enjoy every moment. I’ll watch her not enjoying them and remember when I had the luxury.

I’ll let him sleep on me as long as he wants, and love it all. When I knew what it was, and when I didn’t.

 

19 Comments | Posted in Sometimes, I'm all deep and shit..... | February 19, 2020
  • aoc

    Fantastic.

    • Melanie

      As always, you’ve written so effortlessly what is so hard to capture in the moment. I have a 7 & 4 year old, and I know I have time, but not too long before my 7 yo turns to her friends more than me, or my 4 yo starts school and it’s all homework and projects and rushing. It’s hard to be in the moment, and it’s hard to not say “no” to them when I’m tired and just trying to get it all done. I hope they’ll feel me treasuring them even in these moments, because I am.

  • Erin

    Exactly what I needed to read as I lie awake too late in bed, a feverish baby on my chest and a coughing toddler to my left. Feeling guilty that I raised my voice today a little too quickly and that I dread the fact that tomorrow we will all be cooped up once again, in this house together, instead of going about our normal day. Where I would have a little space, a little time just for me.

    Old German ladies tend to dictate to me more about how my baby needs to wear a hat or he will get sick (or other bossy things) instead of the more traditional “enjoy it.” But they’re saying the same thing…”pay attention to this.”

    And someday all there will be is space and time. And that ache. And while I have a ways to go, I can already tell it will hurt like hell.

  • Anne

    Thank you, thank you. This is not the first time you’ve written about something that has caused me pain, shed some light on it, and helped it to heal a bit. You have this magical way of gently speaking hard truths about this parenting gig without making me feel like shit for “doing it wrong” and also without just covering up and hiding the pang of guilt that deserves to be felt. It does go fast. I will miss it. And it’s also really fucking hard sometimes. PPA/PPD has colored so much of my world even here on the other side of it. I want to shout your words into the ears of people who don’t get it. But I’ll settle for reading them and healing quietly. And take a moment to gaze at my 4-year-old’s little nose and my 2-year-old’s chubby hand before falling exhausted into bed.

    • Lori

      Beautiful, Janelle. Thank you.

  • Lisa Wenk

    I only have 1 but I feel the exact same way…. wahhhh

  • Kristen

    I also have an 18 year old and a little one (mine is 3 1/2). You captured my feelings exactly with this post in your usual (spot on) way. I find myself letting her stir the soup, “help” me with numerous tasks, and I almost always will read one more story at bedtime. Sometimes I don’t recognize myself and feel guilty that my older kids didn’t get this much attention and patience, but, you’re right, at 22, I couldn’t possibly have known how fast life goes, and couldn’t have handled it. Thank you for your writing.

  • Anna

    Wow, very beautiful. Thanks

  • Leila

    My baby was half a year yesterday, when you posted this. When he was about a month old and would only sleep in my arms, feeding every 5 minutes it felt like, and I was pulled towards ‘doing’ other stuff, like I always ‘do’…as a ‘doer’, a wise woman told me to just surrender. It was the best advice I got from anyone. And I got a couple of gems. I have been surrendering every day since,to a bounding wriggler, who only wants to stand and never stops, and every night, to totally erratic feeding and waking and peeing all over himself, the changing table and me at 3am. Thank you for this beautiful post! I can’t see into the future, but I am pretty sure that staying in the present is the best way to surrender to time.

  • Lara

    Beautiful essay! I wrote something about the “cherish every moment” advice a while ago. These days, my kids are teenagers, and I enjoy my little nieces and nephews. And sometimes fantasize about grandkids ;). https://www.larafreidenfelds.com/post/cherish-every-moment-of-parenting

  • Megan

    I’m not crying, YOU’RE crying! *sniff*

  • Valerie Lev Dolgin

    I had my babies late after two years of infertility. I was 38 when my first was born, 40 when my second arrived. They are 5 and 7 now and I have lives in the perpetual state of “enjoy every moment” since the first one arrived. It’s beautiful and it sucks. Being an older mom means that I am very very aware of the inevitable growing up and leaving. I’m also aware that there’s a good chance I’ll never be a grandmother and that I’ll be in my late 50’s when my second kid graduates high school. Time passes more quickly when you’re an old mom, and I’m trying to hold on to the precious bits while staying sane. I wish I’d had the luxury of being 20 and not enjoying every moment.

  • Katie S.

    I only have one child and am in the beginning stages of this motherhood journey, as she is only 20 months old. I started later in life, was 35 when she was born. This coupled with the strong suspicion that she will be my only has caused me to acknowledge the fleetingness of these moments from the get-go.
    What really struck me was your phrase of “An actual day. It is very concrete. They are around every day, and then they are not.” It made me wonder, is this similar to the feeling of becoming a mother when, they are not their own separate little being and then on a very concrete day suddenly they are. Because F*. Adjusting to that shift has been excruciating. So please, tell me it feels nothing like that when they go the other way and leave!!

  • Liz

    Love love love this

  • Lisa Grossmann

    Beautiful as always, Janelle! (Said tearfully, blowing my nose, after driving my 22 year old “baby” to the bus, back to her own life).

  • Gail

    I’m one of those old ladies. But I don’t say “it” any more because I remember just wanted to punch the women who told me IT ALL GOES SO FAST. I know I’ve encouraged gratitude but I still think that’s hard on moms in the thick of it. Now I smile and ask how you’re doing and is there anything I can offer? That’s all I wanted.

  • Anna

    I wouldn’t have wanted to live all those years in the full knowledge of what they would mean to me when they were gone, because there was a freedom there, an energy—we were both young.

    Sometimes I think we are the same person. It’s wonderful to look at my youngest kid and be able to make better decisions on everything I’ve learned and treasure moments because I know they won’t come again. But there was magic in my first kid too, when we were both too young and it felt like we had forever.

  • Sandi

    Yeah. That’s it right there.

    I have the blessing of being THAT grandma, the one who keeps her grandchild every day so her own child can make the dollars and do the things. but I was never going to BE that person. I said it out loud, and I’ve been called on it. “Not going to be my children’s nanny,” was tossed into my lap, from which I shoved it off like a hairball the cat yakked up.

    Okay, yeah, I SAID it, but that was different, when there was no flesh and blood child only a potential one some day. Now there is THIS baby, with his big blue eyes and his sweet baby smell and tiny clinging fingers and dancing little feet.THIS baby is my joy, and every minute of him reminds me of the minutes of his mother and his auntie and his uncles.

    He is the repeat of all the babies I knew before, who curled against me and asked for one more story before sleep, who drifted into dreams and grew heavy in my arms, who clutched my fingers as they learned to walk, then run, then they were gone.

    And if I didn’t cherish the moments THEN, I cherish them now, in this sweet little return engagement of The Baby Years.

    I’m down with that.

  • Rosa

    Beautiful and fierce.