I don’t remember that last time that any of my babies (now teenagers) nursed. I don’t remember that last night that I rocked one of my children to sleep or peppered a fat little belly with kisses. When was the last time that I nibbled on a row of tiny toes or the last night that one of our children stumbled sleepy-eyed into our bedroom in the middle of the night? I don’t know when it happened, but I looked up one day and all of my children were big kids.
Thank God that I did not realize at the time that any of these “lasts” were happening. I could not have borne it. Even now, I sometimes feel a bittersweet ache in my heart when hear a baby’s belly laugh or see a chubby toddler climb into his mother’s lap.
It’s true that the bigness of my children still sometimes takes me by surprise, still takes my breath away, but I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. When they were small, I knew the days were fleeting. And though there were phases I wanted to rush though (potty training, separation anxiety, incessant whining), on the whole, I savored my children’s littleness. I heeded all the warnings about how fast it would go and how I would miss these days. I never tired of breathing in their clean baby smells or brushing my lips across their downy heads. I cherished our bedtime routine (most nights) and our early morning cuddles. I loved the feel of their warm, tiny bodies snuggling up to me in the middle of the night more than I loved getting eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. I wasn’t super mom. Like every mother, I got tired and frustrated and even bored, but the heart-wrenching knowledge that it would all be over way too soon, was never far from my mind, so I tried to soak up as much of each day’s delights as I possibly could.
With big kids it’s different. It sounds selfish when I say it out loud, but when they were little, the frustrations came with certain payoffs. When they pulled me away from my housework or my book or my bed, it was usually because they needed my attention. They needed me – to rock or nurse or cuddle or soothe or play or read. Such frustration but such incredible sweetness.
I remember the restless feeling of sitting down to nurse a demanding toddler when I had a sink full of dirty dishes and piles of never-ending laundry that required my attention. But I also remember seeing my little girl’s sweet cherub face looking up at me as she nursed and hearing her say, “Kay koo, Mommy.” And thinking to myself, Oh to hell with the dishes!
What I Want to Remember About My Teenagers
Of course my big kids need me too. And just like when they were small, I get tired and frustrated and bored, but if I’m being honest, now there is less of a payoff – at least less of an immediate payoff. When my teenagers pull me away from by housework or my book or my bed, they aren’t looking for some cuddle time. They are looking for a ride to the mall. And that is way less adorable.
On top of that, they keep me up at night, not with late night snuggles, but with waiting and praying that they get home safely. They play their music too loud. They can be moody. They cost a fortune to feed. And just one of them takes up the entire couch.
And yet, I savor them.
I watch the goofy way my eleven year old runs to my car after school, full of energy and enthusiasm and stories to tell – still too young to try to play it cool. I try to capture that image in my mind, so I’ll never forget this moment. This sight. I smell his head, not that sweet baby smell, but the scent of dirt and sweat and fresh air and little boy. I breathe him in. I love how this boy who is too big to sit in my lap or be tucked in still likes to snuggle close when we read together or watch a movie
I delight in watching my teenage daughters (who five minutes ago were fighting about who gets to wear the black boots) giggle over a funny YouTube video or share private joke. I love to listen to them talk, sometimes on and on, about the minutia of their day and about the important stuff too – boys, friends, futures, and fears. How much longer will they want to snuggle up to me when we talk?
And my oldest boy. He’s hardly a boy at all now. In this, his last year as a teenager, my heart swells with pride at the man he is about to become, while at the same time aching for the little boy he used to be – the boy I can still catch a glimpse of every now and then when he’s laughing or rough housing with his little brother.
No it isn’t the same kind of sweetness with teenagers, but there is still sweetness – still so much to savor.
Sometimes I have to look for the sweetness. Sometimes I have to remind myself to savor. But every day they give me the chance.
A few days ago my younger daughter asked me to braid her hair. I was busy and I stink at braiding. My initial reaction was to tell her to go ask her sister. But then it occurred to me that she won’t always ask me. She will outgrow this too. And before I know it she will be gone. So I stopped whatever I was doing – the thing that had seemed so important a moment before – and I braided her hair. She didn’t say, “Kay koo, Mommy,” but she leaned against me and sighed a deep sigh of contentment, happy to have my help and my undivided attention. I breathed in her sweet scent and brushed my lips against the top of her head. I listened to her chatter on about school and music and her friends. I took my time, and I savored being with her.
Yes, I still get frustrated and tired and bored. I certainly don’t enjoy every single minute of their teens years, just like I didn’t enjoy every single minute of their little years. The busyness and chaos of raising a house full of teens and tweens isn’t be all sweetness. But I also know that, like those little years, this time is a vapor. And when it’s over, I will long for just one more trip to the mall.