Did you remember to say, “I love you, you’ve changed my life?”
It's something I think about every night as I tuck the kids into bed.
To set the scene…it's 8:45 p.m. (and you've been awake since 4:45).
You're tired. Just an hour ago, you were so hungry you tried sneaking a cookie without the kids hearing. (They did).
But now you're full, and sleepy. And apparently there was a food fight in your kitchen. There's rice on the floor. Milk, too.
Three pots are stacked in the sink, while dishes and little, tiny kiddie cups sit on the counter waiting to be rinsed.
And then there's the two children to be bathed. And their two sticky faces, four sticky hands, and four sticky feet.
You herd the kids down the hall and in and out of the shower, brush teeth, brush tangles out of curly hair, chase after them with pajamas, read stories, give hugs and kisses, lights out, collapse.
That's what it is today, but it's evolved a lot as our family’s grown up.
Bedtime used to involve nursing and rocking a baby. It used to involve saying goodnight to every stuffed animal in the room. There used to be just one of them. We used to be a couple, watching TV. It used to be just me and the cats, studying until midnight before begrudgingly giving myself permission to go to bed.
Like I said, we've grown up a lot.
That hall I chase the kids down before bed is the same I sat down in when we officially closed on the house, enormously pregnant with our first child. It's the same hall that we used to test the paint for our daughter's room when we thought we'd have time to paint the whole house (we didn’t). And it's the same hall where I went into labor with two children.
I've walked down that same hall every night for four years to put the kids to bed. First as newborns, then as toddlers, then little kids, and soon as kid kids. (I don't even want to think about teenagers.)
It's where we started hanging family photos. First a family of three, then four, and soon five.
All of it seemed like it would last forever, for better or worse. Of course it wasn’t forever.
Most of the changes were so gradual, I didn't even notice. I guess some changes were pretty sudden – adding a baby, that was a sudden change. But for the most part, I don't remember the last time it was another way.
I don't remember the last time I wound up my daughter's music box as I said goodnight or the last time my husband and I held hands as we walked as couple without children.
I don't remember the last time I rocked my son to sleep or how we spent our last evening as a family of three.
It feels like I should remember these things. It seems like these should be powerful, vivid memories. Like I should have known it would be the last time and held some kind of ceremony.
But I guess growing up doesn't work like that. We're growing up all the time, and all the time weaving in and out of firsts and lasts.
So this growing up business, that's where I get myself into a big knot of confusing, bittersweet emotions.
I feel thankful for the times we've had and look forward to the times that are coming.
I feel relief after making it through some of those tough stages.
I'm grateful that my kids will experience more and get good at things and have goals and make friends and grow independent.
I laugh as I realize it's a good thing I didn't stay 20 or 25 or 30.
It’s a good thing to grow up, and I can't wait to see who we all become.
But I also look back and ask, did I appreciate it enough?
Was I really there enough?
Did I remember to say, “I love you, you've changed my life?”
Or did I rush through it? Did I ruminate about that pile of dishes waiting by the sink and sigh as I was asked to sing one more round of the Itsy Bitsy Spider?
Because the truth is that sometimes growing up’s not fun.
Maybe that's just the battle of growing. It's the remembering the past and looking forward to the future all at once and trying so hard to be present enough through it all. Let go of enough. Show enough of your love. Enjoy it all enough.
I know I love my family. I love them so much that it's hard to imagine loving baby number three, who's no more than a faint fluttering sensation in my belly, as much as I love my family now.
I know I will of course, but it's so much love that, still, you wonder.
Anyway, I know I love them, but sometimes life is just too fast or messy to really remember those kinds of things.
So it's the kind of thing I beat myself up about. I think a lot of moms do. Maybe it's all the people telling us to enjoy it while it lasts because they grow so fast, meanwhile we're sweeping up crushed Cheerios from the living room floor and secretly wondering when we last washed our hair.
I've decided to make room for all the ways that I'm not perfect, because I think it might be okay to still have some growing up left in me, too.
Yeah, I still need to work on patience or presence or fostering peace in my heart. Sometimes I'm so focused on cleaning the house or I feel the need to write that email right now that I'm not really there.
But if I'm also being honest here, that's not most of the time.
You know how I know?
Because the house is never clean and I always feel behind in the work I'm doing and I never feel like I'm keeping up enough with people. Because I’d rather be with my family when I’m home.
There has to be some room for imperfection in this growing up business, because growing up is everything. It's fast and slow. Messy and charming. Joyful and frustrating.
That's the beauty and challenge of growing up every day.
And no matter how much you appreciated it while it was there, maybe you're always going to look back and wonder if you appreciated it enough.
Either way, no matter how much you appreciate it, we're all growing up all the time. The kids are always getting bigger. Your grey hairs will multiply, and you'll start talking about “grown up” things like the savings account on a Saturday night.
Before you know it, everything will change, and you'll wish you could go back for just a minute. To do it again, appreciate it a little more, and say, “I love you, you've changed my life.”
And I think that now, instead of feeling guilty about it, I'll try to remember that that's okay.
The important thing is accepting that this is where I am now but that we'll all be older tomorrow. And appreciating the moments when appreciation is accessible.
Maybe that’s what helps us stay in the moment a little longer every time (and forgive ourselves when we can't).
Maybe that's what helps us hug and kiss and say thank you when we can (and let the hard times be hard times before letting them go).
And maybe that’s what helps us remember to say, “I love you, you've changed my life” before we all grow up.