Enjoy every minute, she said. It goes by so fast.
She looked so peaceful, on her solo shopping trip. She looked comfortable in her clean clothes and cute pink and gray scarf. When was the last time I thought of putting on a damn scarf? Do I still own scarves?
I saw you, older mom or grandmother, and I know you saw me too.
You saw the exhaustion in my eyes. You guessed (correctly) what my bed looked like at 2:30 in the morning last night (and most nights). You knew that last night I was perched on the very edge of one side, pillow-less, but afforded the luxury of one small corner of booger-covered blanket. My toddler was between my husband and me—his tiny, yet also enormous body (because tiny toddlers are really anything but tiny) commanding the entire middle of the bed. He has been sick with a cold, so he only wanted Mom. My husband offered to help, but all night long I heard No, I want Mommy. I need my elephant! I want a blanket. No blanket! I need a tissue! I want Mommy! As he pushed me farther and farther to the edge of my bed.
And you probably guessed that I did try a couple of times to put him back into his bed. Of course, during these brief periods of respite where I was again allowed a normal human-sized space in which to sleep, my other children called for me to get them a drink of water and fix their blankets. You knew that I was needed or wanted by someone else all throughout the night.
How did you know? Because you were once me.
You saw me today, with my three kids. One was trying to sneak candy into the cart, despite my having told him no, because he's “testing his boundaries” these days. The other two were bickering over who would get to put the bag of grapes onto the conveyer belt. That same toddler who took up most of my bed last night has refused to nap lately, although I've spent hours each day trying to get him to close his eyes, making him less than agreeable. My other child is stubbornly declaring that it is her turn to put the grapes on the belt because he did it last time! And it is so not fair.
You were once here, where I am. Before you were the showered, put together grandma with a pretty scarf, you were me. You were dragging your exhausted self and your cranky kids to the store. Your coat had coffee spilled on it, and your clothes were often too small, but you didn't have the time, money, or heart to admit that you'd gained some weight and needed something new.
You remember how it feels to be over-touched. How stifling they all can be, needing Mommy every minute of every day, even throughout the night. You know how they take, and take, and take. They even took your bed too, didn't they?
When you looked at me, and told me to enjoy every minute, part of me wanted to punch you. Or send one (or more) of my kids home with you for the night.
But then I saw you too. When you saw the exhaustion in my eyes, I saw the emptiness in yours.
What was your night like last night? I wondered. I'll bet you slept well. I'll bet you had more than enough room in your bed. I'll bet no one bothered you. I realized when I saw you today that your life is probably very quiet. And the quiet is probably deafening at times. Suffocating even. I imagine that your big, empty bed must feel like a vast, cold ocean with endless waves of space. No one calls Mommy during the night for you anymore. No one asks for a drink or for you to fix her blanket. No one steals your pillow, and there is no one for you to carry back to his own bed for the third time.
I saw the longing in your eyes. The longing for that precarious spot, hanging on the edge of the bed. Because you know that although that tiny sliver of space left for me means that I don't sleep well, it also means I am keeping the toddler safe, nestled in the middle, far from the dangerous edge of falling off. And that act of protecting him is my purpose, my reason for being.
You are no longer able to protect your children from falling off unsafe edges, as they are not children anymore. And that is why you told me to enjoy every minute of motherhood. I understand now. I understand that you were also telling me how much it hurts when it is over. How quiet and big the house is when the times of being touched-out and never having a minute to breathe alone are gone.
I'd like to say thank you. Thank you for your unsolicited advice—advice I almost scorned in irritation. Thank you for reminding me to enjoy every minute because it goes by so fast. I am choosing, today, to soak them in as best I can. I am choosing to stop to smell the scent of their hair as I bring them their middle-of-the night cup of water. I am trying to imprint in my mind the curve of their tiny shoulders as I wrap a blanket around them, and the grip of my 2-year old's arms around my neck, as he is the last one I can still carry to bed.
I am trying to relish in how much I am needed. I am trying to enjoy every moment today—every moment of the loudness, the fullness, of my role as Mom. I know that too soon, my moments to enjoy will be over. Because it truly does go by so fast.