Sometimes, I think I am doing OK as a mom.
I might have made some mistakes here and there. I might have wished for bedtime to come sooner than I should have, but overall, I’ve done my best. I’ve kissed boo-boos, sang bedtime songs, braided hair, baked cookies, and rocked babies.
Most days, I look back and think to myself, Job well done. You’ve made it through. You should be proud, really.
But then, I’ll be walking to my kitchen and see that picture I’ve passed hundreds of times. This time I stopped and stared at it, realizing it was taken three years ago. Those babies, those children, those people … they no longer exist. They have been replaced by children who, each and every day, are pulling away from me. They are creating lives that I have no part of. Heck, those children don’t even remember what their lives were like when that picture was taken.
My oldest only sees the attention the “baby” of the family gets, not knowing that I held her continually for over a year. She doesn’t know that she skipped crawling entirely and went straight to walking because I couldn’t bear to put her down. My middle child doesn’t remember the months we spent lapping around the house, trying to calm the colic that plagued her belly. The life captured in that photo is gone forever, even though it feels like it happened yesterday.
The pain of this realization is hard to process. It’s hard to breathe. It’s hard to reconcile the fact that the life in that picture is gone, and the life I’m living now is disappearing even as I live it.
Sometimes I wonder why more people don’t talk about this particular pain of motherhood. It’s different than the other aches and pains, like that first labor contraction when you realize, Holy crap, there’s no turning back now! Or even the pain of pushing a person from your body.
This is a different kind of pain that can’t exactly be named. And it’s one that hits you out of nowhere. It’s the pain of time passing so fast as you try desperately to hang on. It’s the pain of always wondering if you’ve done enough with the time that is already gone.
I didn’t expect this pain would hit me all at once as I walked through the hall to grab another load of laundry. I didn’t expect for my eyes to fall on that unassuming picture on the wall. Or that the pain would be swift, with my heart twisting with visions of chubby cheeks, innocent smiles, and the bowed legs of a toddler that I thought I’d remember forever, but have already forgotten.
I didn’t expect what it would feel like to live in the present, with one foot in the past and other in the future, with hope, regret, and triumphs all mingling together.
I didn’t expect that I would blink and my baby would be 9 … 19 … 29.
I didn’t expect that motherhood would expand my heart so much that it would hurt.
I didn’t expect that when people talked about childhood going “so fast,” that they would be glossing over the pain of the passage of time, like a bandage ripped off your soul so quickly, you can’t even catch your breath.
You’re grasping to hold on to something that’s not there, wanting to squeeze your child so tight they don’t disappear … but even as you try, they are slipping right from your fingers.
Most days, motherhood is about trucking through. It’s all about getting to the next phase, the next diaper change, the next feeding, the next bedtime tuck-in, and doing that end of day sigh of relief as we pop the cork and plop down on the couch. We made it through, we think. We did it.
But then come the moments when we are forced to come to a staggering halt. Maybe it happens in the hallway. Maybe it happens when we go to look down and realize that our kids are suddenly taller than us. Maybe it happens in those late night couch moments, when you realize there’s nothing you can do but hang on and hope.
Our children are growing up. They’re growing through our failures, mistakes, tempers lost, and voices turned sharp with tiredness. They are growing up through our exhaustion, stress, and invisible wounds. They are growing up as imperfect as we are, and really, all we can do is hang on.
So that’s where I’m at right now, hanging on through the pain of watching my children slowly grow away from me. I’m here, standing like the mush ball mother, sobbing in my hallway, hoping that someday the pictures on my wall will show a family that has grown up together with a love that will never fade, no matter how tall my children happen to grow.