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18 to Life

Little children

At a party some time ago, I got to talking with a polished, fashionable woman who had two kids. Like me, she had a boy and a girl, but her kids were middle-school-aged.

When I told her my kids were 3 ½ and 1 ½, she said pointedly, “Oh. You’re in prison.”

Her eyes were sympathetic but her tone was matter-of-fact. A woman standing nearby who overheard our conversation agreed emphatically, “Yep. Prison.”

Oh, does it ever feel like it some days.

As my husband likes to say: we’re in the thick of it. We’re thick with noise and mess and toys and who-had-it-first disputes, with sticky surfaces and piles of laundry. There’s a shortage of clean underwear, a surplus of toy cars underfoot. Mealtimes feel like an episode of Wild Kingdom with the dogs lurking hungrily below the kids’ chairs.

It’s loud. It’s chaotic. It’s a bounty.

Yes, at times, it feels confining. But there are so many things I love about having little children.

Lazy mornings. Days free of obligations and filled with possibilities. Boo-boos that need kissing; mornings with my son’s curly head sharing my pillow. Their fascination with everything, whether it’s a seed growing into a flower or a pin-dot of a plane in the sky. Their glee at chasing a spider through the house with the vacuum cleaner. Their eyes growing wide anytime I whisper, “guess what?!” Their little bodies that fit perfectly on my hip; their arms wrapped tight around me.

I hold them anytime they’ll let me.

There’s a scene in a favorite movie of mine, “Elizabethtown,” where Kirsten Dunst’s character snaps an imaginary camera shutter to capture a perfect moment in time.

Elizabethtown

I do this often, in my head.

In fact, I’m sitting here this very evening snapping away at the scene before me: clouds of balloons hanging above a neat little tower of presents, prescient in their anticipation of the morning.

My little boy, my first baby, turns 4 tomorrow.

Tears roll down my cheeks as I type these words, not because I don’t want him to grow up — although I do struggle with that concept. What I’m struggling with tonight is the hardest part, the very hardest part, of parenting:

The time is going by like water through my fingers.

I don’t know how to slow it down, how to grab hold of the moments that make it all worthwhile. Sometimes I can hardly remember them at the end of the day.

Recently, I came across one of those moments I had captured in an unfinished essay. I had forgotten about it completely until I discovered it on my computer a short while ago.

It was a lovely fall day, too beautiful to miss out on by going home after school, so we met Dad for lunch.

Dining out with small children is always an adventure and this day was no exception. Yet there it was, at the end of our meal: a perfect snapshot moment.

“Against the Wind” played from the restaurant speakers as we got up from our chairs to gather our things and leave. I don’t think I heard the song at all until I looked up to see our nearly 3-year-old son dancing in the middle of the dining room with an empty carryout box on his head.

Against the wind … against the wind. Still running against the wind …

My heart grew tight; my eyes filled. My husband and I met eyes as we watched our goofball son dancing to the music in a nearly empty room. Everything around us stopped as we watched his perfect moment of joy and basked in how young and carefree and blissfully un-self-conscious he is.

It lasted only a moment. The song ended and my son skipped across the room to take my husband’s hand. I snapped back into mom mode and tried to tidy up the mess we left. But the song played on long after we loaded the kids in the car and drove away.

I hear it now, playing in the back of my mind.

That was over a year ago now. It was just a moment in time, but it was one of thousands I wish could last forever.

It’s been four years now since my son came into our lives and changed everything. It feels like the blink of an eye. It feels like an eternity. I can’t decide.

What I know is this: I’m a better person for having known him for four brief years.

It may feel like prison some days; it may feel like we’re running against the wind. But I’m grateful for this sentence. It won’t last forever.

Happy Birthday, Hudson Wells.

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