I’ve been increasingly aware, lately, that my kids are growing.
I know that sounds odd but, if you think about it, we spend a lot of time in parenthood completely unaware that our kids are, in fact, growing. We don’t catch on as they accumulate fractions of inches in height until one day they can open the pantry and reach a snack off the top shelf. We don’t catch the smoothing of their speech until the day they ask for a balloon and not a babloon and we find ourselves crying right there in the toy store. They grow right in the middle of life, just as much on our busiest days as on our quietest, and so we miss the little things until they are quite big things, or rather, big people standing in front of us.
Right now her smiles reveal a giant gap, where teeth used to be, right in the center of the top of her mouth. And right now, he uses his noodle-like toddler body to run ahead of me at pickup and to jump off curbs, or, sometimes, couches but also to curl up in my lap like a roly poly. And I think it’s these two things that are grabbing me and forcing me to acknowledge the growth. That gap, that small space in her smile that screams, “I’m 6 years old!” with childhood delight has an expiration date. The big teeth that belong there will come along any day now and give her tongue something to push against, wiping away her almost imperceptible lisp that makes me feel glowy every time. And his body will continue to grow and become stronger. He’ll wiggle and curl and jump less and stride more. I look at them and I can’t help but feel that we’re in a space that is so incredibly special, if for no other reason than that once we move on, we can never come back. She’ll loose other teeth but she’ll never have that signature hole again. He’ll probably always wiggle and curl up into my arms but not in the very particular way he does today.
And I struggle to not feel sad about that. I struggle to not mourn the moment right as I’m living it.
Parenthood has a way of holding our hearts in the past while constantly propelling us into the future. Every time I sneak into a darkened room to whisper my love into a dream before I succumb to sleep, I can’t help but see both the baby she used to be in the way she still hugs a lovey to her cheek and the little women she is becoming in the long curves of her face and the way her feet now inch towards the bottom of the bed. Every night, it still hits me that he’s in a bed and the crib is gone and the rocker is gone too and my mind can’t help but play it forward to all of the other changes in this room that will signify his rapid journey away from babyhood. I stare at baby pictures and sob over the baby fat that has melted away and the little jumper that hasn’t fit for years and find myself mourning the past and wishing I had held on tighter, enjoyed it more.
It’s easy to get caught up in the push and pull of past and future. I call it the challenge of being content.
I left my house in the afternoon last week to run a few errands while the kids were in school and found myself walking to the beat of multiple tantrums from my fellow little shoppers. Hearing and seeing children when I am by myself always makes me miss my babies, no matter how loud the stranger child’s tantrum is or how badly I needed to get out by myself. And that moment was no different. I missed my kids. Not the tantrum-prone version of them (which, coincidentally, is the same version of them that I miss when I’m tearing up over baby photos). I didn’t miss them as babies. I missed them now. I missed their today-selves, the ones that rarely throw check-out lane tantrums anymore, the ones I had strapped backpacks and lunchboxes to and sent off with hugs and kisses that morning and the ones that I’d pick up with more hugs and kisses in a couple of hours. And, somehow, missing them in all of their current glory snapped things into place for me.
Rather than missing the past or crying in preparation for the future, I can simply enjoy today.
I can simply soak up every word that comes out of that toothless mouth and revel in every gapped smile, ignore how fleeting it is and just live it now. I can simply watch him wiggle-run down the hallway and belly laugh at his noodley dances and commit the moment to the memory of my heart. I can admit that I’m content here. Happy. I can let myself enjoy this sweet spot for exactly what it is, a soft space where we are all happy and healthy and gelling and where I can’t help but be wooed by their childhood. I can own this space as a special nook in our lives and stop, for a little while, obsessing over how things used to be or, even worse, that things will not always be as they are today. I can just be content.