“The days are long, but the years are short.”
This is the kind of anonymous quotery that gets stuck in my maternal craw, and no matter how I hack at it, I can’t dislodge it. It’s there, reminding me when I want to press fast-forward on a particularly trying day that I cannot. It’s there, reminding me when I want to press pause on a particularly precious day that I cannot.
So, thank you, anonymous truth seer. Thank you for telling me what I know but didn’t want to know.
My own parents watch me now with wise eyes wrinkled by joy and years of parenting fatigue. They watch me suffer through a new round of temper tantrums with the role-reversal of me being the parent (likely having a barely contained meltdown of my own) suffering the fresh temper tantrums of seven- and four-year-old girls. My parents smile and pour me a glass of wine. They don’t say it out loud, but their eyes do: “The days are long, but the years are short.”
We had a Sloth visit our house the other evening.
She was slow-moving, slow-talking, and she slowed down the bedtime process.
We don’t allow much to slow down the bedtime process.
But. It’s not every evening you have a Sloth visit your house.
For the Sloth, I set aside my dinner, which had already been reheated twice that evening (because it had been a twice-microwaved-still-eaten-lukewarm-dinner kind of day).
I put the Sloth on my hand and delayed bedtime.
The Sloth is one of Miss I’s favorite puppets.
For the past two years, I have spent a decent number of minutes that add up to hours each day “talking in voice” with puppets and imaginary friends with Miss I. But recently, First Grade has happened to Miss I. I have fewer minutes and hours of Miss I in my day, and she now has more interest in the silly jokes first grade boys tell and the little plastic toys called Shopkins that silly first grade girls trade. There have not been any requests to “talk in voice” for many months. The fairies have gone mute. Peter Pan slumbers under a blanket of dust. Our puppets have set into rigor mortis.
Sloth was resurrected last night.
“Mom!?” Miss I demand-asked in a particular tone that doesn’t sit great with me after the 8:00 bedtime minute ticks onto the clock. I readied a firm “no” to whatever was coming. “Mom!? Will you do a visit with Sloth?”
My salmon filet could just chill while Sloth, Miss I, and I had a moment. It was a long moment that stretched far into the past-8:00 minutes of bedtime.
Because the days are long, but the years are short.
This early childhood flow of time has always felt off for me as a parent. Maybe the mothering gig is a rude awakening for us all. I do, however, believe I’ve observed my fellow mamas embrace so much more gracefully than I the demanding pace of motherhood. I fell into the role six weeks before my due date with an emergency delivery of a premature baby, and I’m still trying to catch up, shake my head, and figure out what happened there.
Two days after bringing my wee baby girl home from the hospital, I felt the finality of the change in my life: there is no return to sender if the new garment doesn’t fit well. And I didn’t find motherhood fit me comfortably for a long, long time. It felt too snug in some places, too loose in others. Parts of it were far too long for me and others were embarrassingly short. Yet, I’ve worn motherhood for seven years now, and while I wouldn’t call it a perfect, tailored fit, I’ve come to adore it like the favorite pair of jeans that requires the magical power of time plus use to perfect and conform.
Maybe my untimely call to motherhood or my discomfort with how the role fit my life gave me a heightened awareness of the preciousness of the early days. From early on, I’ve had all the gut-feels about how important it is to notice, appreciate, protect, and rejoice in the Now. Yes to the hard Nows of temper tantrums and Yes to the joyful Nows of Sloth visits.
Because I’ve sensed, from six weeks before my actual due date for my first child, the days are long, but the years are short.
Sloth visits, which seem so very long at the time, are actually so very speedy.
It’s this edge of sorrow tingeing motherhood that no one ever really talks about. The exhaustion, yes. The joyousness, yes. The frustrations, yes. The wonder, yes. We talk about so much except for the sorrow that nibbles at the edges of our days. The sorrow over what is lost as the days creep by and the years speed up. The sorrow that somehow reminds us, in the middle of an I’m-going-to-lose-my-mind-and-there’d-better-be-a-glass-of-wine-waiting temper tantrum, that it’s all (temper tantrums, late bedtimes, cold dinners, exhaustion, frustration, joys, wonders) going to be so very worth it when we make it through.
I’ve seen what it looks like when we make it through. It looks like the promised land.
Last week, I got to fly on an airplane. Alone.
If you are a parent with the recent experience of traveling with children under the age of 6, you just read that last sentence and heavenly gongs chimed in your head.
(I know. Right? Alone. On an airplane.)
If you are an adult who has managed to avoid the experience or block it from memory under pain of hypnosis, let me paint the scene.
Flying with children under the age of six means water bottles. And water bottles often drop forgotten to the bottom of bags. Bags that are discovered in the security line through which you have crept for 30 minutes, wrangling sweaty hands, righting rolling suitcases, re-securing the tension ribbons designating the labyrinth path, calming fears over special blankets going through the approaching x-ray machines, and watching business travelers whisk by next to you in the Pre-Check line holding a single carry on bag and having something called a “free hand” in the other hand. Parents flying with children under the age of 6 put this thing called a “free hand” in the same category as “unicorns, fairies, gnomes, and sleep.”
Flying with children under the age of six means water bottles discovered in the security line, an extra long halt with a special blanket trapped (TRAPPED! TEARS!) in the x-ray machine, reprimands from TSA agents, looks of hatred from all other non-family travelers in line, public inspection of personal bodily fluids as a TSA agent pointedly pulls on rubber gloves to wave some paper strip test over your precious bottle of breastmilk (now on display for all non-breastmilk producing passengers to ogle over), more roller suitcase flipping, shoe un-tying, tension-ribbon releasing, food NOW demanding, water NOW demanding, and potty breaks with three bodies/purse/suitcase/carry on/stroller all stuffed into a single stall. At this particular point, your cell phone may remain in your pocket, but more likely than not, this is the day and moment it chooses to dive into the just-used toilet for a swim.
Flying with children under the age of six means water bottles confiscated at TSA line, and then subsequent licking of water fountains, automatic bathroom faucets, plane seat belts, plane windows, sanitized cell phones, parent’s elbows, and sister’s feet. Most of this licking is inexplicable, but as a parent, you just go with it and thank Jesus the licking is not accompanied by crying. Because crying, all of the angry eyes on the airplane warn you mutely as you smash elbows bumbling all the way to your seats at the very back of the plane, will simply not be tolerated.
Flying with children under the age of six means crying.
If it’s not them crying, it will be you crying.
It will likely be all of you crying.
And that’s just the law of the sky.
So. After spending seven years braving the laws of the sky with children as baggage, I finally had a trip last week where I had one hand free. I was alone.
And yes, it was as blissful as I have been imagining it would be for the past seven years as I have wrinkled with envy over all the other passengers quietly reading books, watching grown-up movies on iPads, and making it through a flight without anyone small spilling a sticky drink all over them.
I read a book.
I could even have slept if I hadn’t been so excited and starry-eyed over my luck.
The worst part of the flight was how quickly it was over.
Six more hours! I wanted to stand up and plead as soon as the buckle seatbelts light dinged off. Let’s taxi in the sky awhile. Just six more hours of bliss, please! But no, in the blink of an eye, I was trundling my lone rolling suitcase off the plane.
The days are long, but the solo flights are short.
The bare bones truth is this: the first three years of any child’s life are hard. Write-my-resignation-letter-today hard. Those years get multiplied outward with each child. So, by my math, some parents spend a decade or more in the trenches. And if you’re one of those parents reading my words today, you really don’t need to hear me sniff and sorrow about how the days are long, but the years are short.
You, parents of children ages 3 and under, need to hear rejoicing because YES! The years are short!!!
You will survive. This parenting gig really does get easier.
Short and quick does bring blessed relief, not just sorrow over time past.
You will reach the promised land. I’ve been there. I’ve caught a glimpse.
You will find a unicorn standing in a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
You will hear heavenly hosts of fairies singing hallelujah.
You will find a staff of gnomes handing you a steaming latte that has not been microwaved from the dredges of yesterday’s coffee pot.
You will have a free hand.
You will sleep.
You will never take solo airplane travel for granted again.
May we all find a balance in life that embraces the days that plod along at a Sloth-conversation pace and the years that speed by on the joyful wings of solo aviation.