For the Parent of a Child Under the Age of Five


Last week at the grocery store, for the one millionth time, an old lady instructed me to treasure my daughters while they’re this age. Now I, like you, typically smile at whatever old fart is in front of me and go about my business with a “Oh, yes! I am!” But this time, with Addy strapped to my back and kicking, and Penny whining she wanted to buy some flowers, while I searched vainly for some garam masala in the spice aisle, I responded, “You know I’m trying. But it’s getting awfully hard to treasure those 3 AM wake up calls. Followed promptly by a 4 AM wake up. And winter? Do you know what it’s like to get them bundled up, out the door, and in their car seats everyday when it’s below freezing? Not to mention the fact that I somehow neglected to put gloves on my daughter’s hands today, and now I’m going to have to buy a ridiculously overpriced pair just to make it home. To be honest, I can’t get through these times fast enough.”

Smugly I went back to tuning my children out to scan the bulk spices thinking the old lady would scowl at me and leave me alone. Instead, she blinked a moment and laughed. “Oh, I remember those times too. I read something the other day, you know, something like… the days are long but the years are fast. It’s like that, isn’t it?”

Stupid old ladies and their stupid grocery store wisdom. She’s right, the days are forever but when that first day of school or that birthday or that whatever it is hits, you find yourself flummoxed. How did this happen? How did my baby turn into this real live little girl all of a sudden? You panic and think: It’s all going so fast and I’m not treasuring it enough! Instead I spend precious hours of the day largely annoyed with them. Why are you taking so long? Why are you fighting me while I’m trying to change your diaper? Why are you dancing around the bathroom not getting your underwear pulled up? Why can’t you let me finish my coffee/email/lunch/work/bill paying? Why don’t you have your shoes on?

And then the guilt hits you. Why does their very smallness and inability to do anything just keep sucking the life out of me? Why can’t I just enjoy them? Or more specifically, why can’t I let this one beautiful, amazing moment when we’re all dancing madly around the kitchen to Bob Marley be enough? I do so want to treasure holding you in my arms when you’re so small and cuddly, but at the exact same moment I want to put you down so I can brush my teeth.

I suspect, despite what old ladies in the grocery store may tell you, we weren’t meant to treasure these times. For every sweet memory you have with your children, there were a hundred hours of simply enduring. A hundred times you wiped their truly stinky bums. A hundred times you sneak an extra bite of oatmeal into their screaming mouths. A hundred times you pulled them into your lap only to have them wiggle to get back down just so they can yell at you for putting them down again. These are not the times to treasure, but they may be the times to remember. I recommend that if you remember them, you remember them only like an impressionist painting: recognizable but with a lot of fuzzy details.

It seems to me that there is no greater way to force yourself to live in the moment than to have children. Nothing puts a stop to naval gazing faster than your toddler reaching for the hot pan on the stove. Nothing could make you savor your dinner more than watching your delighted 4 year old sauté the onions for the spaghetti sauce. And we can’t both live in the moment and treasure the moment. Or at least, I haven’t figured out how to.

What we really need is not another Ordinary Day video, but our own version of It Gets Better. Your average parent is already so overwhelmed by the minutia of getting completely unreasonable creatures fed, clothed, and entertained, that the thought of another grocery store admonishment that we’re somehow not appreciating this special time makes me want to jam my head inside the Coinstar change dispenser. You’ll forgive me if this “special time” when my preschooler just had an accident and my toddler ate the grocery list is something I choose to forget, or to recall in the distant future when my daughters bring home their first dates.

So grocery store ladies, next time could you please just tell me that it gets better? That it’s okay to find huge chunks of this time in their lives simply exhausting? And that while the days are long, and the years fast, I’m treasuring it just the right amount.

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2 Responses to “For the Parent of a Child Under the Age of Five”

  1. Amen! You speak directly to me, if feels, in this post.
    I loved the way this was written, and I feel like I’m there with you right in that spice aisle.
    It does get better, but then tomorrow, something else will happen, too.

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