May I share a pet peeve about parenting that might implicate a few of you? When you have young children, people often say, “Oh, they grow up so fast!” And I’ve always found that to be absolutely irritating. No offense.
When our daughters were babies, I remember hearing this kind of advice a lot. “Cherish these days with them — they’ll be teenagers before you know it and you’ll just be picking up their dirty socks as they walk out the door!” Especially having two daughters, we have often received warnings from seasoned parents, who entreat us to beware of the cold and difficult moods that inevitably appear on a girl’s thirteenth birthday. (In truth, I myself was a moody, disgruntled teenage girl. But does that mean it has to be so?)
What I find most difficult about the charge to appreciate the days with our young ones is how I am confronted, jarringly, with anxiety over my own mortality and the fleeting nature of childhood — all while I was just minding my own business, doing the grocery shopping or similar. I often feel like Ramona Quimby, who, when told by her sister to “grow up,” responds with an agonized, “CAN’T YOU SEE I’M TRYING?” I echo Ramona’s pain — I’m TRYING! I’m doing my very, very best to soak up every moment.
So, ever since those baby days, I have been working my tail off to cherish our time as parents. I journal every night. I hug our daughters as much as they’ll let me (and, thankfully, that is a lot). We work on enjoying the present moment as a family, and we give thanks for our time together. When people talk about how quickly our children have grown, I usually agree with them to be friendly. But in my more honest moments, you’ll hear me say, “Sometimes it seems like it is going quickly, but most of the times it feels like it has taken just about seven-and-a-half years.”
But we’re encountering a game-changing event here. The loss of Lucy’s final front top incisor.
Lucy has been on the slow side of her peers when it comes to losing her teeth, and, truthfully, I haven’t minded too much. It has been interesting to see her friends grow giant adult teeth in their juvenile mouths and watch their whole faces change. Lucy lost her baby-fat cheeks awhile ago, but those little milk teeth have kept her looking just a tiny bit like the baby I met about seven years ago.
Lucy lost her first top incisor about a month ago, and we caught the moment on video. Note her reference to Jeni’s Ice Cream — I’m not lying about how it has become part of our family culture.
Pretty soon, that last baby tooth will find its way to the Tooth Fairy — or, rather, to the plastic bag where Lucy is hoarding her teeth, unwilling to give them up, even in exchange for cold, hard cash. And Lucy’s face will begin to change, too. Am I ready for it? What will she be like? What is it like to have a pre-pre-teen in the house? How will I change as a mother? I’ve had some time to think about this because, as you can see, Lucy is never in a big rush to pull out that tooth. She lets it hang there for a good long time.
I confess that I sometimes feel a little bit of panic welling up inside, anxiety that I’m missing our daughters childhood somehow, that it is slipping by while I’m nagging them about cleaning up their toys. I’ll be washing the dishes and think: “Lucy is almost eight now, and in another eight years she’ll be driving! Gah!” But then I remember: the reading together, the field trips, the baking experiments, the nightly baths, the potty jokes. Those are great memories, but it doesn’t feel like they just happened yesterday. They all add up to just about seven-and-a-half years.
But let me not pretend that I didn’t cry after watching this video of Rosie reading. Or that I didn’t go give the girls an extra kiss after looking at old pictures. Even though I soak up every day, they slip by one by one. Lucy’s profoundly loose tooth is just one more reminder of their daily growth. But would I want it to be any different? It is the very finiteness of childhood that makes it so precious. I wouldn’t want our children to always stay babies, just as I wouldn’t want myself to stay 38½. I’m excited to have our family growing together. And, as the joke goes, growing is much better than the alternative.
So, I look at it this way: The next seven-and-a-half years will probably take about as long as the past seven-and-a-half years have, except there are a few benefits. Granted, we won’t have cuddly babies to snuggle, but we’ll likely get full nights of sleep, conversations with humans that have an increasing mastery of the English language, plus no poopy diapers. Maybe we’ll go to the movies together — after dark! — and maybe we’ll knit side by side. Maybe we’ll argue about politics and disagree about boyfriends. Maybe we’ll plan dinner parties together and I’ll learn to share the kitchen gracefully when the girls are cooking. Sure, maybe we’ll experience cold teenage moodiness from the other side of the spectrum, but I have real hope that we can get through that. We’ll probably fight, but I hope we’ll hug too. Maybe it won’t be fun all the time, but maybe we’ll have some great moments — and maybe we can soak those up together.