“Wow, you’ve finally made it,” my neighbor whispered as I walked out of the elementary school doors. After a hectic summer, I was ready for the routine of another school year, and yet, I had found myself a bit apprehensive as I walked my youngest daughter to class earlier that morning.

I grasped her hand tightly as we approached her classroom. Dressed in her brand-new outfit and eager to begin this new adventure called first grade, my daughter giggled with excitement. Finally finding her name printed on a desk, she let go of my hand, hung up her bright pink backpack and turned to take her seat. I gave her one last hug, wished her well, and then rushed for the parking lot in case my threatening tears erupted.

“Finally!  Some well-deserved time for yourself,” my envious friend continued.  I nodded my head in agreement, but as I shut the car door behind me, the brutal reality hit me right between the eyes. A genuine, often tired, stay-at-home mother of four, I hesitated, waiting for the feeling of relief to pour over me, but it never came. Is this the day I’ve been waiting for all these years?

Just imagine… No more highchairs, cribs or naptime battles to deal with. No more nighttime feedings or crankiness blamed on teething. No more diapers! No more car seats, potty training, or meltdowns at the checkout stand. Can it really be true? No more playgroup, immunizations, or dragging a preschooler around with me everywhere I go?

No more freshly-picked dandelions carefully arranged in a Dixie cup? No more cuddling on the couch for cartoons? No more “Mommy’s home!” echoing down the hall as I walk in the door? No more wishing upon a star at bedtime? No more ‘mommy dates’ at McDonald’s? Can it really be true?

As I finally give away the well-worn stroller and the last box of recycled baby clothes, I somehow don’t feel like I’ve made it. I feel like I’m running out of time.

In the surreal blink of an eye, I have been transformed from a new mother, frenzied with worry about bedtime schedules and ear infections, to a mom now consumed with balancing four busy schedules and the brutal realities of junior prom, teenage drivers, and college tuition. I feel like I’ve finally entered the “real world” of parenting.

My crying baby of eighteen years ago is now taking college classes and ordering senior pictures, and my excited first-grader will too soon be graduating from high school. The inconvenience of the dirty diapers and messy bedrooms pale in comparison to this bittersweet process of letting go.

These babies of mine are growing up, and I am finally beginning to understand their message: “Love me…Teach me…Feed me…Nurture me…” but most of all, “Please enjoy me!”  This is the chapter I would add to all of those parenting books stacked on the library shelves.  Enjoy the crying spells, the crayon drawings on the wall, the never-ending homework, the giggles under the covers at night, the text-messaging and even that first car accident.

I know, I know, easier said than done. I do not claim to have all the answers; rather every day of this “parenthood journey” brings countless new questions. My days run long and my patience runs short, but I have learned one lesson during this parental learning curve: This miracle of childhood is fading much too quickly, and I already miss it.

So, every morning as I get up to face another day, I whisper to myself, “Whatever challenges, mishaps, and adventures you encounter today, remember to enjoy them, embrace them, and smile through them (with gritted teeth if necessary), because one thing is for sure: Today will quickly become yesterday, and it will never pass this way again.”

Question: No matter what phase you are in with your children, think of what it is you are going to miss when they are grown and gone.  What can you do to savor those childhood moments?

Challenge: Pick one thing about your child’s phase that you currently struggle with.  What is one thing you can do today that will help you overcome the struggling feelings and enjoy this phase of his/her growth and development more fully?

 

Photo submitted by Cindy McGee

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