Pressing “Play” Instead of “Fast Forward”

Sleeping through the night, rolling over, sitting up, eating solid foods, crawling, talking, walking, potty-training, riding a bike, tying shoes, starting school… we move through our children’s childhood with eyes forward. Some parents with more vigor and ambitious competitiveness than others. We look ahead to the next stage, achievement, or development. Being forward-thinking is positive except when it causes us to lose sight of the present.

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Yesterday, I sat in my 1.5-year-old’s darkened bedroom rocking and nursing him before his nap, just as I have every day for the last 19 months. In the dark quiet I began lamenting my lack of freedom, my breastmilk tether. To be able to go out to lunch, volunteer at my older children’s schools, exercise, or go to appointments without navigating naptime, which doesn’t exist without a pre-snooze nursing session, seemed lovely. To be able to go out with my husband or friends and not worry about getting home to nurse my littlest before bed seemed refreshing. To not have to remain home after my littlest’s bedtime in case he awakes, as only nursing can return him to slumber, seemed freeing. The longing for freedom was overwhelming. I craved the next stage.

I began contemplating when to wean to a bottle or sippy cup, at least for naptime. It was new territory. I’d worked part-time from 4 months postpartum with my first child until my first trimester with my third child, so my eldest two children learned early on how to find sleep without the breast. My littlest, though, never needed to welcome rest in any other way but in my arms. I chided myself for not introducing a nursing-free naptime sooner. What had I been thinking?

Then, my toddler placed a sweaty, sleepy hand on my cheek. I looked down at his blissful nursing state and realized that soon this season would be over. He will not nurse forever. He will not always need or want me to cuddle him in his dim bedroom each day and night before sleep. He will not always look to me for nourishment and comfort. “You’ll have your whole life to be free,” I thought to myself. “Savor the present.”

Like the tween sneaking into an R-rated movie or the teenager preening to look older, I was wishing away my present. I was being impatient with a fleeting precious stage in the hopes of reaching the next phase sooner. But getting there sooner doesn’t mean a thing since arrival is an eventuality. If anything it cheapens the journey and is fodder for regret.

And so, as I lie here now on the playroom sofa at far-too-early-in-the-morning after 2 hours of sleep and reading many baby storybooks by the light of “Max and Ruby” due to toddler insomnia, I feel his finally-asleep weight on me and I smile. Sure, I’m tired. Sure, I’ll have to dig deep tomorrow to delve into the Monday routine with 3 kids 5 and under, but it’s worth it.

These hardships, these swift sweet moments, these gems amidst the craggy rocks are what parenthood is all about. If we keep our eyes forward we miss the beautiful details of the present and there’s no getting them back.

We will get to that next stage eventually. No need to rush it. Just enjoy the ride.

Seeing my Former Self

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.

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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.

Needing to Break the Routine

It’s 5:30am. My littlest, who cosleeps from his nighttime wake-up until morning, is half-asleep nursing. I feel my 5:45am alarm approaching: stress!

Knowing I would remain fully awake now and not wanting to disturb my husband or nursling, I turn off my alarm carefully trying not to disturb my littlest. I feel stress bubble up inside me. “I NEED to be up in 13 minutes.” I think to myself. I begin contemplating whether I can sneak out of the bed without waking my bed partners. But my toddler is a boob barnacle, so sneaking out is a non-option. “Do I just wake him up and take him downstairs before he’s ready?” I ponder. I dash that thought knowing full well how rocky a morning that will be.

“But I NEED to get up!” I mentally moan. I carefully lift my head to look at the clock without disturbing my littlest’s latch: 5:35.

“Wait,” I think to myself, “my preschooler is on Christmas break. My husband is dropping off our kindergartener for her last day of school before break. All I’m doing is going to the grocery store, doing chores, and driving school pick-up this afternoon. I don’t ‘NEED’ to wake up right now.” That’s when I realized what I really needed to do: slow down.

I needed to pull up the covers and cuddle my little one. I needed to feel his soft skin and pudgy hands. I needed to etch in my mind the feeling of his warm little footsie pajama’ed body against mine. I needed to savor.

Sometimes I get so lost in the to-do list, the routine, and the stressors that I can forget what I actually NEED to do. Slow down and savor for this all goes by too fast.