“Savor every minute!” an elderly woman trilled as she watched us struggling with the car seat straps on our first trip home from the hospital twenty-two years ago. “It goes by so fast.”
It does go by fast, those first few days. Everything is new and exciting with friends and family descending upon you, like it or not. Every feeding is an adventure; every non-droopy diaper is an accomplishment and every burp a triumph.
Newborns, in my experience, worm their way into your heart before they show their true colors. The first few days, all they do is sleep. You feed them, change them, put them back in the bassinet and repeat. There’s nothing to it. But, then inevitably your in-laws leave and your spouse goes back to work and you find yourself all alone with a beet-faced baby crying uncontrollably for hours on end.
But somehow you plod your way through. And then one day you look at your four year-old daughter dangling her newborn brother precariously over her little lap while your two year-old is trying to draw on his head and you wonder, how did I get here this quick?
And that’s when time slows down.
Having three children in four years is not an astounding feat by any means. My mother had four daughters in five years. My friend Margaret had a son and 15 months later, twin daughters. She also had a job with a two-hour-and-fifteen-minute commute. Each way. Every day. People have triplets. Quadruplets. Seven kids. Ten kids. No, I was nothing special. I was just another overwhelmed mother with a job three miles away at which I worked three days a week and two from home.
They were long, slow years.
I have an adorable two year-old great niece named Sophie. When we are blessed with her presence, we are all mesmerized. We watch her every move, marvel at her dimpled smile, laugh at all the funny things she says and does.
“How did you ever get anything done?” my daughter Molly asked at Christmas this year. “You must have just sat there all day long in awe, watching us!”
She was right. I didn’t get anything done. And I did sit there in awe. In awe of what I had become. I went from being a selfish, independent, control freak who always, always put my personal comfort first to a selfish, independent control freak who always, always put my personal comfort first – but with a caveat. I now had kids. And those character traits just don’t mesh with that job title.
But I did the best I could and in those interminable years, I often thought back to that woman at the hospital. “It goes so fast.”
I tried to remember that when I had three kids climbing in and out of grocery carts and three kids screaming to go to the park when I still had a brochure to write and when I had a parent teacher conference when my spouse was out of town and the babysitter got sick. I tried to remember that when I spent an hour cooking up a nice healthy meal that a parenting magazine guaranteed my kids would love and then spent the next hour short-order cooking separate meals for each of them. I tried to remember that at 10 pm when two out of three were still tormenting me. I tried to remember that when I wanted to go walk to the mailbox at the end of the block and had to wait for my spouse to come home. I tried to remember that when they drew on the freshly painted living room walls or let the wild dog out the front door when the mailman was coming up the path. I tried to remember that when they took every single item out of the refrigerator and then moved on to the Tupperware drawer, then the pots and pans. I tried to remember that when my plans got canceled, my career got thwarted, my kids got cocksackie.
I simply couldn’t imagine the day that I would once again walk out the door alone. Without a diaper bag. Without snacks. Without forgetting something. Or someone.
No, I never had time to marvel at the wonders of my kids. I was too busy looking ahead, planning the next step, trying to get through the next week, the next month. Trying to get us all through unscathed.
“It goes so fast.” I certainly didn’t think so.
This morning I went on the Rutgers website to check one more time if maybe they had made a mistake and we’d get a huge financial aid award after all.
We didn’t. But something else happened.
Something caught in my throat as I took time to let it sink in. My baby, who has facial hair, is going to college in the fall.
And now, I want a do-over. I want to be present for my kids. I want to read Owl Babies eighteen times and get fourteen glasses of water and change the subsequent wet sheets without flipping out. I want to wipe those walls and clean up those toys with a smile not caring that I’ll just do it again the next day. And the next. I want to hug Max when the television topples on his head instead of rolling my eyes because it set us back 15 minutes. I want to listen to Molly read me her second-grade story without looking at my watch. I want to hang Leo’s art work on the living room walls. I want one more Christmas pageant. One more Little League game. One more Martin Luther King ceremony.
I didn’t believe it while I was living it. But I know now, that woman was right.
“It goes so fast.”
I want to find one more Cheerio on the back seat of my car. I want to click one more car seat. I want to go back and enjoy every sticky hand and runny nose and unsolicited hug.
But I can’t.