By Stephanie Portell
“Cherish this time when they’re little.” I hear this all the time. I hear it from family, and I hear it from strangers. But no matter whom I hear it from, for me, it’s bullshit. How am I supposed to stop and live in the moment when my toddler is screaming his head off because I gave him the wrong color bowl? How am I supposed to find preciousness in my toddler screaming even louder in public when I tell him to be quiet? All I want to do in these moments is run away, shave my head and wear dark sunglasses so my kids can never find me. If you never want to run, and have found a way to seize the day, please let me in on the secret.
I have two children and I can speak with certainty when I say I am not going to miss this. With my first baby, who is seven now, I would try so hard to be present and to soak up the moments I was supposed to be soaking up. Even though there were likely only five or six times in my oldest son’s first two years I actually wanted to soak it up.
Now with my three-year-old, there is probably one moment a year on average I want to soak up (he is my wild child) and I find myself less inclined to do so. I don’t want to remember the times I wanted to run away as fast as I could. I want to remember him climbing in my lap and laying his head on my shoulder. I don’t want to remember him kicking and swatting at me as I’m struggling to put him in time out for clocking his big brother. Instead, I want to remember him saying “you my best friend mommy.”
Let’s face it: In the first few years the blissful moments can be far and few between. I spent much of my time with my toddlers fantasizing about when they’d be teens. Thinking that if I had three wishes I would ask the genie to fast forward to when my children acted less like whirling dervishes and more like little adults. In my most shameful moments, I ask myself why did I decide to do this in the first place?
Note to reader – I had put down my pen for a few weeks after writing this first part of my essay and now, weeks later, return to the writing anew. I have to tell you something important.
I want you to imagine a life of silence. Imagine a life where you don’t have to make a detailed plan just to go to the grocery store with your baby, your toddler, and your tween. Ah– freedom.
In the middle of my not-savor-the-moment thinking between starting and now finishing this piece, I watched a story that Oprah did once on her show. It was about a mom, and her three children who had an ordinary day going to the mall.
I don’t know this mom. I didn’t know her kids.
I don’t know if the youngest threw a fit when they left the mall that day because it was nap time, or if the oldest whined when she couldn’t get the shirt she wanted.
But I know that on their way home when a truck rear-ended them, and killed all three of her children, that mother would have given anything to hear a tantrum again. To hear her children complain, or bicker.
She would give anything to have to explain for the millionth time why her daughter can’t just buy whatever she wants at the mall, and to not be a chauffeur for soccer games and dance recitals without so much as a “thanks mom.”
Hearing this family’s story made me realize even though it’s perfectly OK for us to complain about our everyday challenges with the kiddos, it is also much needed to be present as best as we can. It doesn’t have to be the challenging moments when we want to pull the hair from our head in frustration. It can mean just making sure you are checked in mentally when you are having a genuine good time with your kids instead of only being there physically. It can mean not taking advantage of that time to do work or to just do something without them. Bathroom anyone?
I can’t be present 100 percent of the time or even 50 percent, if I told you otherwise I would be lying.
I am just saying I am going to live in as many moments as I can, because those moments are going to turn into my child’s own memories one day.
I remind myself, and you should too perhaps, that the mom’s kids in the Oprah story are gone, along with all of those moments she thought she would never miss.
Stephanie Portell is the mother of two little boys. She works full time in the medical field while working on her dream of writing any chance she gets.