Longest Days and Shortest Years
by Maija Threlkeld
“They grow up so fast” a voice shares from behind me in line at the grocery store. I turn toward the older woman who’s gazing down at my three young children with a familiar wistful look about her face.
Never mind that my children are a mass of flapping hands and bobbling heads while I’m silently willing the shopper ahead of me to stop chatting with the checkout clerk and actually write her (expletive) check so I can get the (expletive) out of the grocery store. (I must return to yoga.)
I’ve heard this comment before. I suspect it’s familiar with moms of young children. Usually it’s doled out by an older woman apparently lucky enough to have survived these fledgling years herding jousting offspring out of polite society and back into the confines of the cracker-strewn car before their mother seriously loses it, and back again. Day after endless day.
Why is it so often that I’m in the throes of a more challenging moment of parenting that I hear this remark too? In a way it’s oddly reassuring to know that whatever difficult developmental stages I’m up against will zip by at warp speed and soon I’ll be providing my self-reliant adolescents a nice send off as they fly the coop to conquer their worlds, my own head abuzz with self-indulgent opportunities to finally pursue.
But the older mother’s wistful look? Could it that like childbirth she has somehow forgotten all of the pain and suffering and recalls only the happier moments of child rearing? Then there’s this need to remind me, guilt-gullible me to savor every precious memory of little hands with dimpled knuckles and flush-cheeked faces beaming while going “weeeee!” down the playground slide.
I truly wish I could take in these moments more. I’m sure somewhere in my paper-strewn office I have a reminder scribbled on a ragged-edged paper to do that very thing. Catch is, I’m too distracted by the more taxing elements of rearing, like tantrums and potty training. Plus moments when I’m trying to escape the grocery store with hyper kids in tow as aforementioned above (and now relived momentarily in a rude flashback).
Politely I nod back in response to both acknowledge the sentiment and try to mask own my disbelief. ‘Grow up fast?’ It never seems fast enough during the trying times of parenting.
I wonder if boarding school or boot camp would make the time fly quicker?
But I know that her intent is to remind me that the arduous times will pass too. And to try not to lose sight of the little hands behind the messy finger paints.
I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a customer service representative who came on the line just as my son started to drill me loudly with questions, having been quietly playing independently all the while I waited on hold. The service rep couldn’t help but hear him in the background demanding my attention. “I remember those days!” she chuckled. “He was quiet until a moment ago of course” I laughed back in my exasperation. Our conversation continued while I placed my order and then she paused and offered “A friend once shared about parenting, ‘These are the longest days and the shortest years.’” Then I paused too. How true it is.
How I wish the moments of soft-cheeked kisses and little voices singing in the house were longer and the trials of parenting shorter. But time flies regardless and in a blink the kids are grown. Years from now when I overhear another woman share “They grow up so fast” with a mom fraught in a parenting moment I hope I don’t weep too loudly.
They grow up fast. Far too fast.