I was standing in at the grocery store register, trying to entertain my 1.5-year-old to just get through the last 5 minutes of the errand without a meltdown. We’d made it this far — thanks to our Ergo 360 and nursing on the go — we just needed to last a few more minutes.
Then I saw her. The mom with what appeared to be a 4-year-old, 2.5-year-old, and infant. It was me last year. Outwardly, she appeared calm wrangling her brood as she awaited staff assistance, but I could sense her camouflaged stress and feel the familiar cloud of perpetual chaos.
The sight took me back to that not-so-distant time. I remembered the constant demands, as no one was independent yet everyone had an attitude. I recalled that unshakable exhaustion, as I got little quality sleep but lived a life that required high energy and even loftier levels of patience. I remembered being in survival mode 24/7. I remembered the haze, the self-imposed guilt, the frustration of doing and giving it all yet feeling as if I accomplished nothing. I remembered the tenderness, the cuddles, the duckling fluff infant hair, the afternoon playdates, the chubby toddler cheeks, the preschooler lisps, the calmer schedule. I remembered my entire trio being younger, smaller, pudgier, needier.
After swiping and signing to pay for my groceries, I looked down at my toddler, squirming in the carrier, and realized how far my life had progressed. How quickly things had changed. And then it hit me: in no time, none of them will need me for the little things. They may reluctantly call upon me for a listening ear, life insight, or homework help, but I won’t be so central to their lives. If anything, I’ll be an irksome source of embarrassment and nagging. At least until much later years, if I am so fortunate.
My harried days are numbered. My children are growing faster than I’d choose and, with that swift development, adjusting my life, my identity, my purpose.
I have no control over the tide. I am merely swept along, clutching to memories and moments as they rush past. I see my previous life stages drift away into hazy memory as I careen towards an unknown destination. If I focus too heavily on the past, I miss the present. If I dwell on the ambiguous future, I miss it all. If I try to fight the tide, I’ll drown.
Bundling up my toddler, I looked back at the mom of 3 under 4 and remembered being her. Part of me was glad to have moved beyond the madness, but another part of me envied her. She doesn’t realize how beautiful her present exhausted state is, how much she’ll treasure those memories, and long to be so intrinsically needed. I certainly didn’t when I was her.
I gave my toddler a squeeze and batted away tears as I passed my former self. Leaving the exhaustion and beauty behind, I faced the day with a greater appreciation. I will survive the frenzied day-to-day but I will also savor, for it will be a memory in too short time.