Last week after I begged, bribed and threatened, my teenage daughters finally cleaned out their closet. I guess it had been a while because as I was folding some of the laundry that they had blithely tossed into the hallway (poor things, cleaning is such hard work), I came across a tiny pink leotard.
I started to cry.
Were they not, just yesterday, two little ballerinas flitting gleefully across the stage at their ballet recital? Wasn’t it only a moment ago that every dress had to be twirly and every night we read Angelina Ballerina before bed? Where did the time go? Where did my little girls go?
So much for the laundry! The next thing I knew I was crying into that tiny pink leotard, looking at baby pictures and eating potato chips. (Hey, I cry A LOT. I have to replenish my body’s sodium!)
That’s how it usually happens. One minute I’m on a cleaning rampage, determined to dust, organize or toss out anything that doesn’t move and the next I’m dissolving into a
puddle sea of tears because of dancewear.
Maybe I’m a poor housekeeper, or maybe my children had a weird thing about hiding stuff, because even though the youngest is 12, I’m still finding tiny reminders of those precious days when they were little.
I clean out a drawer and find a Playmobil guy. Deep within the couch cushions there’s a doll shoe. A wooden block in an empty vase. Or a plastic dinosaur in the back of the linen closet. Rarely a month goes by that some childhood memento doesn’t resurface. It’s a fairly common occurrence, and my reactions range from wistful daydreaming about the past to a full-on emotional breakdown.
It isn’t that I want to live in the past. Having big kids is great. But still, I sometimes ache for the days of sticky kisses and chubby little arms around my neck. This doesn’t surprise me. I knew I would miss my babies.
What does surprise me is the things I never thought I’d miss about little kids.
1. Having sick children
Like all mothers, when my children are hurting, I’m hurting. When they are truly miserable, I am in agony. So I never like for my children to be sick. But when a little child is running a low-grade fever, a rowdy, rambunctious, busy three-year old suddenly becomes a full-time cuddle bug.
When they were little and my children got sick, everything else came to a grinding halt, and I did nothing but hold them and love them back to wellness – sometimes for days. Big kids get sick less often than little ones, which is a good thing. Again, nobody wants a sick child. But when they do, cuddling is apparently not a cure. Sadly, a darkened bedroom, Netflix and Sprite seem to do the trick much better.
2. Songs about dinosaurs or trains or picking up pawpaws
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not completely uncool. For the most part I prefer Panic! At the Disco over The Wiggles. But I also don’t always get today’s music. Some of it’s weird and not very….ummmm what’s the word? Musical!
I try to keep an open mind, but sometimes when Twenty One Pilots or The Strumbellas are blasting through the speakers on my car radio, I think I could go for a good old-fashioned dinosaur song.
3. Making playdates
Life was so much simpler when I could say, “These are your friends. Here is where we will play for the next two hours. Then we will go home and take a nap.” Sure, I got some pushback now and then when it was time to go home, but nothing I couldn’t handle. It is way more difficult to toss a teenager over my shoulder and buckle him in the car kicking and screaming.
4. The car pick up line at school
To be clear, I loath, hate, dread and despise the car-rider pickup line at my son’s school. Yet, a few weeks ago as I sat, some 4000 cars back from the loading zone, it dawned on me that next year he will be in middle school, and my son will ride home with his older sisters who are in high school. I realized that this is the last year I will ever pick anyone up from the car-rider line.
You guessed it. I started to cry. Here’s a tip: If you ever notice another mom crying in the car-rider line, just keep moving. Pretend you don’t notice. It’s less embarrassing for everyone that way.
5. Being the fount of all knowledge
It was so exhausting having a houseful of children who expected me to know the answers to their seemingly endless questions. Why can’t dogs talk? How do fish sleep? Why did God make mosquitos? What would happen if I ate this apple core? What would happen if I jumped off the house. Where are my shoes? Where’s my blankie? Where’s my goldfish?
You know what’s more exhausting that having a houseful of children who expect me to know everything? Having a houseful of teenagers who think I know nothing.
Maybe it’s because this is the last year before “the baby” becomes a teenager. Maybe it’s because my older daughter will soon be a high school senior. I’m not sure why, but these days all it takes to send me spiraling into a tear-filled potato chip funk is to come across a tattered teddy bear or a broken Slinky.
In a few years, when all of my children are adults, I guess I’ll still be finding hair ties and baseballs, old phone cases and crumbled up math papers – the things big kids leave lying around. And with any luck, I’ll sit down and have a good cry over all the things I miss about having teenagers.
More by Laura Catherine Hanby Hudgens:
Laura Catherine Hanby Hudgens is a freelance writer and part-time high school teacher. She lives on a buffalo farm in the Arkansas Hills with her husband, her four children, and her parents. Her work can be found at HuffPost Parents, Scary Mommy Club Mid, and her blog, Charming Farming.