This morning I posted a reflection: “I love peonies. I love how they show their displeasure for years after a transplant. I love how they remind me of my childhood backyard. I love how each year when he was little, my son would call them something different: ‘peo-nannies’ and ‘Europeanies.’ Looking forward to this year’s blooms.”
It’s a beautiful Spring morning. My son just finished a second rigorous semester of high school. For the past month, most of his weekdays have been 12-hour days of school and homework. He could usually take Friday evening off, and a chunk of Saturday or Sunday, but the rest was spent keeping on top of assignments and studying.
This week is his semester break. I am so tired from being a support person; I can only imagine how worn out he is. He has definitely been in rest and recovery mode. Today, though, I want him to have some time moving around. I mention that I will be vacuuming and maybe that would be a good time to take a break and go outside.
When the vacuuming begins, he is bothered. “Didn’t you just vacuum, like, five minutes ago?” he inquires. A quick mental review of my sad, sad housekeeping standards allows me to reply with confidence that, no, I have not vacuumed within the past five minutes. “Maybe this would be a good time to go outside,” I suggest again, helpfully. Somewhat to my surprise, he puts on his new tennis shoes–size 13, EE–for a foray into the sunshine.
I’m not here to tell you to cherish the moments with your children while they are young. Some moments you will cherish, some you will forget, and some you may, figuratively, run from, screaming, and never want to look back. That’s the nature of life with young children. I’m also not here to tell you it gets easier. In some ways it does, but mostly it just changes.
This is the impossible thing about parenting: to believe that things will change. Someone a while back, (sorry, I don’t remember who) told me about “the eternal present” and I just love how the idea describes a phenomenon of parenting. There is a way that each stage feels like it has always been, and always will be this way. We know, rationally, that our kids will grow. Some of us dread that, even, but in the moment, I think we just cannot really believe it. When my son was 14, I could distinctly remember having felt on some level that having a teenager wasn’t “a real thing.” My friend Kate, whose older son was 14 when my son was about 6 years old, was something of a wonder to me. How did she let her kid get so old?
So, now when I work with and speak with parents of young children, I understand their reactions when I mention having a teenager. When you are that tired, there’s no need to expend energy thinking about something you can’t completely believe will ever happen to you! Some parents are a bit curious, mostly wanting to know if it’s awful having a teen. No, it’s not awful, not a bit. (I would say that it’s awesome.)
But this is not about what it’s like to have a teenager. I want to tell you about having this day when time opened up for me, and I could fondly remember the past, and enjoy the present and not be completely stymied by that feeling of the eternal present. Because another thought I had this morning is that while my son has been grinding away day by day on his schoolwork, he has gotten himself quite close to the end of his freshman year of high school. That means three more years of being able to count on having him here living with us. So short! Three years!
To all of my friends with kids who’ve become young adults: I’m getting a glimpse. Finishing growing up is going to be a real thing too, isn’t it? Really real, like we will take him to visit schools, and he will apply, and then go.
So, parents of young children, this is what I am here to tell you: treasure those moments of balance that you find. When the eternal present opens up on one or both ends. When your life feels less like a tight bud and more like it is blossoming from and into something different. When you are rested enough to laugh during a challenging moment, when you get out for a bit and feel a rush of excitement to return to your family, when your child surprises you in some way and all you can feel is wonder at his or her perfect little self. When you can appreciate the moment and can also recall the past or get the faintest glimmer of the future that is (really) coming, and be able to embrace it all.
The peonies aren’t blooming yet. But I don’t expect my son to come in with a charming, memorable name for them now, anyway. What he does do is come in with a big smile on his face and tell me about something he saw–something which had to do with bees, literally, and also as in “the birds and the bees”–with the delight and exuberance of a blossoming boy.
“Awesome!” I say, and I mean it.