When Paul was serving a mission for our church, he made friends with the Chase family in Valdez, Alaska. I had the opportunity to meet them when we lived there two summers ago and since then, Michelle Chase and I have become good online pals. A few months ago, she posted this on Facebook and I've read it many times since then. She's courteously allowed me to post some of her superb writing on my little blog to share with you.
I feel like so often, I am frantically trying to hold everything together in my life - making dinner, my marriage, my spirituality, Lily's emotional needs, Lily's physical needs, keeping my house clean, my classes, my etsy shop, and then, if I have time to spare, I breathe and take a moment to indulge myself. In those moments that are so few and far between, I read a book or write in this here blog. I long for the days when I had total freedom. Days when I actually had time to do my homework, read every book on my list, and eat without having to get up a thousand times or share my food with a demanding toddler. Anyway, the first time I read this post of Michelle's, it sang to my soul and has since become my mantra. Enjoy it while it lasts. If you can't do that, at least endure it well.
I was determined to stay at home and raise my children when they were young, despite the financial hardships of living on just one income. With six children that are very spread out in age, it turned out to be a pretty good run! I was a stay-at-home mom for the better part of 20 years. Twice I had three kids under 6 years old, and I thought I would never get out from under the loads of laundry and piles of shoes when they were all living at home. I was not (and I am still not) a good housekeeper. While we did have a lot of fun, things always seemed to be a mess in our small space. I lived for years in survival mode, lacking sleep, and considering each day a success if every child had something to eat, something to wear, and was still physically intact at the end of the day.
I knew that I was doing the right thing by staying at home with the kids, teaching them values, being there for them, giving them a sense of security. I felt it was important and I really believed in what I was doing but many days I felt like I was getting nowhere, spinning my wheels, and everyday seemed like the movie Ground Hog Day, a repeat of the day before. I just wanted to walk through my house from one room to another without having to step over and around little people and their accoutrements. Children just keep coming at you. It's constant. Sometimes I felt like I was swimming, or rather, drowning. I remember the drama of taking several little ones to the grocery store, or eating out, or traveling. Now that my kids are almost grown, those things that were once a traumatic experience have become a pleasure. I rejoice in the fact that I will most likely never have to change a messy diaper on an airplane again!
Back in those days of babies and sleepless nights and constant diaper changes, when it seemed that someone in the family was always sick and I could not go an entire day without having to clean up poop, pee, blood, snot, vomit, or a combination of all of the above, I would often dream how nice it would be to go to a nice clean orderly office, and speak to adults in a clever and professional manner instead of watching cartoons and a playing referee to endless quarrels about who hit who first and who touched someone else's stuff without permission. To carry a small purse and not a giant, sticky-on-the-inside diaper bag. And in that purse would be lipstick that was not all mashed up into the lid by a curious child, and gum that would still be available to me when I wished to chew it. I had many times when I longed to get away, and have some time to myself, to eat an entire meal without getting up, uninterrupted shopping, a shower without someone banging on the door.
That dream has now come true. I go to an office while the kids are in school, where someone else cleans the bathroom and takes out the trash each day. That's right - someone else cleans the bathroom and takes out the trash each day. My work space is organized. My scissors and tape are always exactly where they belong. A few times a year I go on business trips where I fly with with a laptop and briefcase instead of a diaper bag. People compliment my work, and they even pay me for doing it! I spent this week at a very nice hotel, which was right next to a shopping mall. In the evenings, I wandered the mall alone, eating at nice restaurants, and soaking in deep oval tub. It would seem like my fantasy has been fulfilled. But it isn't nearly as enjoyable as I had once imagined. I spent the entire week missing my family, and feeling a little lonely and nostalgic.
Deep within in my core, I really miss the old days. I miss the smell of a sleeping baby. I miss rocking and singing someone to sleep. I miss the nights when quick little legs would run down the hallway and slip into our bed where they were safe from all the nightmares. I miss the tiny fingers and pudgy toes. I miss that little boy new-haircut look when a son seems to have suddenly aged a year. I miss the tooth fairy business. I miss chubby baby cheeks, and the smiles, the unabashed smiles and giggles that happen before they learn to care what anyone else thinks. I miss having someone warm on my lap. Nobody sits on my lap anymore. And I find myself not knowing what to do with my hands. What do people do with their hands when there is no child to hold?
I miss feeling like the work I am doing is very worthwhile, for the work of motherhood, while very messy, is noble. I miss that my little children thought I was invincible, and all-knowing. I miss those little faces looking up at me, and soaking in every word I said - those clean slates, before the world clouded them over. My kisses could heal bumps and bruises and broken hearts. They thought I could defend them from everything from monsters to natural disasters. Now days, I see how they look at me, and I know they realize that if a real monster came tearing through the door I would be just as helpless as they are. And really, what is silly old mom going to do about an erupting volcano or a hurricane? She can't even make a decent French braid or sing all the words to the latest song on the radio. Turns out that eye-rolling is a big part of living with teenagers. You have to be thick-skinned to survive those years.
My older children have grown up and moved away, living their own lives. It's a different relationship - a different kind of joy to know them as adults. As I watch my youngest turning into a young woman, my heart breaks a little everyday. I have to remind myself to let her grow up - it's her turn now. She can't be my baby forever. The eye-rolling has already begun.
How things have changed. I remember simply hating those people who said things like,"Enjoy it while it lasts! They grow up too fast!" It seems like that advice always came at a time when I was about ready to throw in the towel ( like that would even be possible for a mom to do.) And while people who made those types of comments were, I suppose, trying to give me encouragement, my reaction was to feel even more discouraged, because "enjoying it" was just another thing that probably wouldn't get done that day. I don't even really know what would have been a better remark for a well- meaning person to say. Maybe, "Don't worry, you'll all survive, eventually." Or maybe those people should have just kept quiet and either held the baby or sprinted after a runaway toddler, picked up the vacuum, or unloaded the dishwasher. That would have been more helpful.
And now I find myself thinking, but not saying, those very same things when I see young, harried mothers with little ones tagging behind them. "Turn," I want to say. "Turn around and look into the eyes of your children, and tell them something to make them feel special. Make a memory. Slow down. Give a hug. And if you can't 'enjoy it while it lasts' today, at least endure it well. They do grow up way too fast."