Long Days, Short Years

Gretchen Rubin frequently proclaims that when it comes to parenthood, the days are long, but the years are short.

Strangers with more grown children often can’t help but impart their perspective when they see you with an infant, a toddler. “It all goes so fast,” they say. “Cherish every moment.”

Social media posts of babies growing month by month are often accompanied with captions begging time to stop, wishing kids would just stop growing. Photographs accomplish what we cannot – a freeze frame of time, imperfections diminished, even without filters, the edges of the preserved moment shine brighter.

In this current moment, I know my daughter as the baby she was, and the passing of time has indeed made the difficulty of those early months recede. I will never long for those first months because while I felt so much love, I also felt so much frustration. I was floundering in every sense of the word – slogged in grief, angry that crossing the boundary into parenthood wasn’t a more triumphant run. The tears cried between us in those early weeks could have filled a bathtub.

I know my daughter as the toddler she became, when she began to be able to do things for herself, when her intense emotions began to be mediated through progressing speech and a deepening connection between us.

I have memorized the details of her sleeping face. I know the exact dimensions of her frame. She grows so slowly that I can almost trick myself into thinking that I’ve found some loophole in the inevitability of her ascension into being a fully formed person that I can’t know, not yet.

So I hold her while she sleeps. I have done this for so long that it’s hard to settle myself without her proximity. When awake, we play, we laugh, we clash, we push, and sometimes, we still cry. Sleeping, things simplify. I am reminded that her very existence, to me, is a metaphor for hope, for believing in the light that exists somewhere beyond all the darkness.

And even long days pass. This month off work has almost felt like a return to the sprawling, amorphous days of maternity leave, but without the crippling grief. Last summer, I had so much work to do on myself, I needed time and space to reckon with all I hadn’t processed, and I needed to do this alone. This summer, I have needed to hold my daughter close, to savor the fleeting moments in which she is allowed to be my entire world.

In this time together, there’s been incontrovertible evidence that she is in fact growing. That soon, she will trade in the toddler label for that of pre-schooler. She speaks with such fluency, expressing things that boggle my mind and make my heartbeat stutter-step. She’s traded in her diapers, and the sight of her in her big-girl underwear makes me a perfect amalgam of devastated and proud.

This winter, shortly after she turns three, she’s slated to become a big sister. I had trouble writing that sentence. Even at 15 weeks pregnant, I’m unable to use any verb that suggests more certainty. I relate more to the turn of phrase “expecting” because the thing about expectations, is that even when they are reasonable, there’s always a chance they may not pan out. I know that should I be lucky enough to get the chance to bring up another child, my heart will expand with more love than they both could ever need. And yet, there’s a simplicity in having one child that can’t be maintained. This summer, I’ve tried to appreciate the purity of two people fully absorbed in one another.

And so logically, dropping her at “school” this morning in her big-girl underwear, I felt the same overwhelming retinue of emotions that I felt bringing her to daycare for the first day ever at 8 months old. She was in tears, proclaiming she didn’t want to go to a place where I know she is happy and well cared for. It’s know it’s my job to calmly give her a tour of the potty, to verbally reassure that mommy will come back, to hand her over and walk away.

And while I welcome the return to work, the beginning of yet another school year, I also mourn the end of this imperfectly perfect summer. When the school year begins, routine will speed up the metronome of our days, blurring summer into fall, and bringing with it change. The truth is even if everything works out better than I can imagine, I will never not be grateful for this chance I had to savor the present moment with my vibrant, healthy child, who quite simply by existing, is my heart’s deepest wish already fulfilled.