My family is growing up. As much as I want to freeze us all in time and make sure we don’t age another day, it’s happening. The kids are getting older, Mike and I are getting softer and everything about our family dynamic seems to be shifting, whether we like it or not. Time stands still for no one. I know this because there have been about a zillion songs written on the topic. Also, I can look at myself in the mirror. And I think we all know that every parent with grown kids never misses an opportunity to say, “It all passes by in the blink of an eye.”
I’ve known this to be true since we started our family, but I didn’t think I would start to feel it so acutely or quite this quickly. My kids growing up is the most bittersweet thing I have ever experienced. They get more layered and interesting and awe-inspiring by the day, but the speed of it all is literally keeping me up at night.
When they get to their most awesome, is that the same moment that they pick up and leave the house?
Mike says I am getting ahead of myself. Our kids are still small and we still have so much time before we need to start worrying about them leaving us.
He’s right, I think. Just enjoy them. Cherish every moment. And then I roll my eyes at myself for suddenly sounding like a Hallmark card. Why do kids turn us into such huge clichés??
I think the main reason I find myself panicking about this is because we have hit the sweet spot. The kids are suddenly more independent and can do things for themselves, while also behaving like real people who are fun to have conversations with. Not because they are messing up words and saying silly nonsensical things, but because they are impressing me with things they learned at school, making actual jokes on purpose and professing their love for me in ways that feel heartfelt and important.
All weekend long, I had amazing moments with my girls— watching movies snuggled on the couch, going out for pancakes and pedicures with Harlow, picking up new chapter books at the bookstore with Mazzy. We decided we are going to read A Wrinkle in Time together before the movie comes out. It was my favorite book as a kid but I barely remember it now. I can’t wait for Mazzy and me to experience it together.
We all went to see The Greatest Showman on Saturday night. A 7pm movie, with dinner out first, like regular people. It’s one of the first live action movies that we’ve seen together as a family in the theater. There were parts in there that I was unsure were appropriate (like when a young Barnum gets slapped by a disapproving adult) but the girls loved it. Mazzy leaned over in the middle of the movie and explained to me who Zac Efron was, as if I didn’t know. After it was over, they wanted to discuss their favorite characters, storylines and songs. We all agreed we liked Zendaya’s character the best. How they knew her real name, I have no idea. Then we went home and blasted the soundtrack; dancing, singing and laughing in the living room.
But with each family moment when we are perfectly in sync, I am struck with two feelings at once. First comes the onslaught of pure happiness, and then a small chaser of sadness. It’s all so fleeting.
At night, I take turns lying in Harlow’s bed and then in Mazzy’s. I usually stay in their room until both of them are asleep, which has become a very bad habit for all of us. Five years ago, I would have shuddered to think that this is where our sleep routine would have ended up, but when Mazzy and Harlow beg me to stay in the room with them, I stay.
I know sooner rather than later, they will stop asking.
That’s not to say I am always happy to be there. Sometimes I want them to just fall asleep already or get frustrated that they won’t stay in bed without me, because I want to spend some time with Mike or be on my own. I’ll get mad that they are trying to manipulate the situation or that they won’t just give me a break. But then when they do fall asleep, I feel guilty. Like I should have given them all my love, no matter what, while they were still awake.
I think when parents talk about it all going so fast, they actually mean the exact part that I am in right now. The baby years last forever. The toddler years stretch out too. We can’t wait for the day when our kids can dress themselves and communicate what they want without crying. Once we get past this or that milestone, we think, everything will be so much easier. And then suddenly your kid is five and you feel the fog of new motherhood lift. You can converse and travel and eat out and read books together and share favorite shows on television. But the cruel trick is, just as it dawns on you how amazing everything is, right at that exact moment in your family’s life, you also realize this is just another phase that will pass too.
There are only a few precious years between toddlers and tweenagers. It’s like a five to seven year window that you need to appreciate for everything its got. But when you have more than one child, your kids don’t reach that precious window at the same time, so you might not see it clearly at first.
Now that Harlow has finally entered the sweet spot, I realize that Mazzy has already been in it for a few years and I didn’t even notice. I think it took Harlow reaching the threshold to make me see that Mazzy is on the cusp of the next phase already. Any day, she’s going to come out the other side as one of those mom-hating teenagers you hear so much about.
This is not to say that everything at this moment is amazing. Bigger kids actually come with bigger problems. Parenting is ten times harder and more all consuming than it was a few years ago. There’s homework and bad attitudes and sibling rivalry and self esteem issues. When your kids are little, it feels like there is so much room for error. You’ve got time to figure things out and shape these little people from blank slates into whomever it is they are meant to be.
Then suddenly, your kids are their own people who can judge your parenting and argue with your choices. They can opt to listen or make life difficult. They can tell you straight out— this is not what I want to do with my day. I never realized so much of my time with Mazzy would be spent dragging her out of bed in the morning to go to school and arguing with her about doing homework at night.
It doesn’t seem like that long ago when Mazzy first ventured into the big kid side of playground. There was still so much equipment that was too big for her to play on. I can remember holding her back as bigger, rowdier kids took over and redirecting her to safer spots. It was just last year that she started climbing to the tops of things and I felt comfortable not keeping my eye on her every second. I could follow Harlow, knowing Mazzy would be just fine. Then this past weekend, I got the sense that very soon, Mazzy will not be interested in going to the playground at all.
How did that phase end before it even began? How are we already moving past the playground?
But again, I’m getting ahead of myself. Mazzy is still working on conquering the monkey bars, just beginning to climb trees and hasn’t even learned to ride a bike yet without training wheels. She loves rolling down hills and taking every incline she sees with her scooter. Harlow hasn’t even begun to undertake half of the things that her sister can now do. On our ski trip earlier this month, we just turned the corner we were waiting for— we skied together as a family for the first time.
The kids might be growing up fast but we’re still pretty close to the beginning.
At night, when all I can think about is how fast time is passing, I try to remind myself that I need to relax and love the place I’m at. I need to take advantage of the here and now and not dwell on a future that hasn’t happened yet. I need to remember to be really present when we are all together. I need to listen to my kids as much as I want them to listen to me, while they are still excited to share their thoughts and ideas. I need to take stock in the weekends, when school and homework isn’t muddying our time together. I need to plan special events with the girls after school every once in awhile, even if they don’t fit in with our normal routine. I need to make sure we all sit down together for dinner as a family, more often than not. I need to surprise them and hug them and tell them how much I love them every day.
The dance parties in the kitchen and the crafts at the dining room table and the walks to the ice cream shop and the endless bedtime stories Mazzy and Harlow still beg me to read every night— they are all still there for the taking.
And the cuddles. In the here and now, the cuddles are more tender and tighter than ever.
From both sides.