“Everything changed the day she figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in her life.” -Brian Andreas
Almost everyone who spies a mother with young children will remind her “to enjoy them while they are little; it goes by so fast.” Maybe fathers get this unsolicited advice, too, though my daughter’s father has never reported having such an exchange.
Many women get this advice, I think, to acknowledge the love and struggle inherent in raising children. This reminder is as much for the onlookers, who are quite often parents themselves, to admit, yes, this parenting thing is time-consuming and also, quite possibly, one of the most magical, fleeting challenges of all time. Everything is temporary, these advice-givers want me to remember. The longest shortest time many of us call this time warp known as parenthood.
At first, strangers’ unasked-for wisdom of “enjoy it now” annoyed me to no end. The first year of life, especially as a breastfeeding and working-outside-the-home mother, did not feel like time was on my side. I felt lucky on the days when I had showered or drank moderately warm coffee or had slept enough to enjoy playing with my daughter on a pile of blankets on the hardwood floor.
In fact, many a day and a night I worried about how I was going to keep up the pace and still enjoy the wonder of my only child’s childhood. I felt constantly torn between spending time with her, regaining footing in my career after maternity leave, and rediscovering who I was and what I valued after becoming a mother.
An important loss occurred in my daughter’s first year of life. A layoff is not something I would wish upon anyone. Yet, forced decisions have a way of clearing out the agonizing clutter of possibilities. Economic trauma is not a blessing, contrary to what some of my misguided friends and colleagues tried to sell me when my position and a part of my professional identity were eliminated.
However, what I gained during this painful transition was the realization that I would need to immerse myself in who and what I loved right now, not when it was convenient or a “good time” or when I had a moment because I was never going to have the time unless I planned accordingly.
Brushes with death often remind us to live. Layoffs underscore that livelihoods, while necessary for most of us and meaningful for many, are poor substitutions for life itself.
So, when my now two-year-old daughter has a special event at her preschool, I go. When I can, I carve out a long weekend to visit family and friends. When the circus comes to town, I take her.
I watch her inquisitive little face as she tries to make sense of the bedazzled Flying Wallendas, sees a man on horseback jump through a ring of fire, as she claps in excitement for the clowns and the trick pig and poodles. I watch her eyes as she takes her first bite of cotton candy, or when she cries in genuine distress when she cannot board the visiting school bus. We discuss what she sees outside the window of this city street. I sing her songs until she says no more.
I hope in the time I have with her I do not just enjoy it. I hope I remember the feel of her hand in mine, the incredible sight of watching her running toward me with open arms. I hope she always knows she was my most beloved work.