Some time back, I found myself at Target. Alone! Although I wanted to run through the aisles yelling, “FREEDOM” William Wallace style, I managed to get control of myself. Instead, I found myself slowly meandering through the store, inhaling the smells of popcorn and Starbucks, and reveling in the ability to silently walk whatever aisles I wanted. Just me and my own little thoughts, without a constant, machine gun barrage out of my mouth of, “come here right now, stop touching that, no you can’t have that, stop running/hiding/jumping/breathing….”you get the picture. It was great. I didn’t have to worry about either avoiding the toy aisle, or a lawsuit from someone tripping over one of the Coconuts that I was dragging through the store.
As all good things must come to an end, and I value my relationship with hubby who was home with all four, I soon found myself in line to check out. At the register was a young mom, baby-wearing a tiny, screaming infant. Her 3 or 4 year old daughter was entertaining herself by alternately licking the gum display and scooting around the floor on her bottom. Meanwhile a 5 or 6 year old little boy was throwing a fit in the basket over The Toy He Did Not Get. Oh, momma, could I relate. I tried to meet her eyes to smile and encourage her. To tell her, “I understand. You ran over the invisible time clock of cooperation that small children have and now they have turned on you.” Unfortunately, there was an older, grandmotherly type woman between us who stood looking at her with a sweet smile on her face and then she uttered the words I know that mother did not want to hear.
“Enjoy every minute because it goes by so fast. You will miss this someday.”
Inwardly I cringed and watched the moms expression as she tightened her lips, took her receipt, and managed a terse, “thank you”, before pushing off with cranky children in tow.
See, it’s not that Grandma Lady was wrong or insensitive. I totally get her meaning. I can’t tell you how many times and how many people have said the same things to me. Early on I used to feel guilty because I would think, “there is no way I will miss this. This moment is the last moment I want to have seared into my memory,” I would think to myself as I drug cranky, screaming children out of stores, forced naps, cleaned up puke and poo, held small bodies down for shots or to have foreign objects pulled out of ears, or fought the urge to mop the floor with their hiney after dealing with outright rebellion from someone not even 4 feet tall.
Nope. There are some moments that I will not miss and some things that I can’t un-see as a parent. Just think toilet training and let your imagination run wild, but I won’t feel guilty when well meaning Grandma Ladies tell me I will. Because, see, they’ve got Granny Blinders on and all they see is a cute kid. I’ve got to go home with my tyrant….I mean, offspring.
Then one night as I was snuggling down into my bed, I remember sleepily thinking how relieved I was that we were somewhat past the frighting season of When Kids Won’t Sleep. It was kind of nice not to have a random kid (or two) in the middle of our bed. Suddenly though, out of the blue, I had this momentary, weird, freak out moment: “When was last time I nursed Coconut #1?” Suddenly I was wide awake and straining to remember the last time I nursed my 13 year old. Bizarre, I know but that’s how my brain works and for whatever reason, I needed to remember RIGHT THEN. Was it a night time feeding? Was it after she had hurt herself? Or when she was just over tired? What would I have done had I known it was going to be the last time? Wouldn’t I have lingered just a little longer in my chair? What about the last time I washed my sons hair? Or I helped Coconut number 3 get dressed on a regular basis? Did Coconut #4 really just shower by herself for the first time last night?
I started to panic a little because I realized there were so many lasts that I hadn’t even realized were happening.
Then I understood. I understood that although I would not miss the screaming temper tantrums and over tired toddlers, I would miss the precious, repentant moments that followed when sweet little bodies would crawl into my lap for a cuddle, “nummies”, or just to pray with me. I could happily forget cleaning up bodily fluids of every kind, but I will forever hold on to memories of time spent on the couch reading or movie watching the afternoon away with a kiddo who was under the weather and just needed some snuggle time with mom. I could happily file away the trip to the ER for foreign object removal but listening to the 4 year old describe her ordeal with her siblings and anybody else that would stand still and listen was priceless.
I have learned much over the past 13 years. I’ve learned there’s lots of ugliness in parenting.
Ugliness in myself.
How many times through a sleep deprivation fog have I grudgingly held a screaming baby, yelled at my over-tired toddler, or tuned out a needy child because I had been touched one too many times in a day? Because everything in me just wanted to run into my room and be alone for once? Because I just wanted to do what I wanted to do? But it’s here, in the fox holes of the parenting war when the battle is raging that one learns the most about themselves.
It’s here that I learned how truly selfish I can be but also just how selfLESS I could be.
Parenting has hammered some things out of me, stretched me, and made me see just how much I need Jesus.
So here’s my unsolicited advice to new parents. Don’t feel guilty about wanting to forget certain parenting moments. Just know that the process of growing applies not only to children but to us as parents. So let the trials change you and bring you closer to Jesus. Parenting is messy because life is messy, but in those moments we would rather forget, when we’re cleaning up another potty accident, refereeing yet another argument. when we are consumed by loneliness from not seeing another adult for hours on end and laboring under the heavy weight of guilt because we’re sure we’re not doing it right, just take a step back. Because a moment later, you will find yourself melting when a tiny head lays on your shoulder and sweet sleepy breath touches your cheek.When a little voice says “I wuv ou, Momma”, you will forget the battles and remember only that although the minutes sometimes feel like hours and the hours feel like days, in reality the years go by like seconds.