It happened again. The older woman meets younger mama at her very wits end about to utterly lose her shit in grocery store aisle; older woman looks longingly at popsicle- and tear-stained small children and says to younger mama “Oh it goes so fast. Enjoy them. They’re precious.” And younger mama (internally) is all “what the actual FUCK lady. I am single parenting this sinking ship and I am one heart palpation away from leaving them in the produce aisle so that some nice person, like you, who clearly raised buttercup baby angels can take them home. My kids are small demons who I actually grew on purpose and who have now rebelled by turning into rabid squirrels who think I’m mean and also left me with stretch marks.” And then (externally) is all “Yes, thank you. That’s what I hear. I hope it goes just a little faster than this moment right here, lolz. But thanks.” Younger mama feels off, icky and slightly shameful. They all carry on, but it’s always a little bit of an odd exchange and one that’s repeated over and over, I would venture to guess, everyday in some mega store over coffee and throw pillows.
This type of interaction actually spurned one of my favorite all time pieces of writing from Glennon Melton- Don’t Carpe Diem— a post that went viral because all of us were like ME FUCKING TOO when she said, nope you don’t have to enjoy every moment. Not at all. It gave us permission to be real, to be out there in all our messed up mommy glory and find other hot mess mamas to commiserate with.
Still. I can’t get the older ladies out of my head. What might they know that we don’t? What might the sweet longing in their eyes be telling us? What stories, with edges softened by time, might they be trying to share with us?
I read an article where a man who had been married for 60 years remarked “40 years were amazing. 20 of those? Meh, not so much.” Which sounds about right to me actually. In his experience about 1/3 of the time sucked, but the rest of it was bliss and when you’re in it that might be a LONG 20 year stretch (or several small sprints of crapiness), but at the end of it, the balance is squarely in the favor of love, honor, & a cherished life lived together. When he stands back and looks at the long path, the winding weird spiral of life that he can trace in the smile lines by her eyes, he sees the larger story. Maybe he sees their common purpose. Maybe he sees perseverance. Maybe he sees daily choices he made to keep showing up and dammit, that’s huge.
As the mama of not-so-tiny littles anymore, I sort of find myself doing this to mamas of teeny babies; wistfully remembering the scent of their heads nestled in my neck, instead of the 20 minutes he’d let me put him down enduring leaky, sore boobs and a two year old climbing on my back. The joy of the first giggle instead of the pain of leaving them at daycare the first time and all of the preparation, gear, planning and 257 loads of laundry it took to make it happen. Peaceful evenings spent in a rocking chair with droopy-eyed boys as they nursed to sleep instead of the pumping (that sound!) in a locked office while answering email and trying not to feel slightly awk that my boobs were out at work.
As with all things, time heals. Time helps us gain the perspective we need to form the softer, glowier memories. As a mama to littles, you earn your stripes in the battlefields of midnight vomit, grocery store meltdowns and the years where all they’ll eat are crackers and fruit snacks while you slave away over child-friendly organic quinoa and kale recipes. If you’re in those trenches right now, oh GIRL do I feel you. But. It was only a couple of years ago and already my scars are fading… and giving way to nostalgia. Somehow and without realizing it, I’ve turned a corner into having Kids instead of Babies. I know there are trenches ahead of me (teenage years with boys, ack) and continued heartache felt in times of powerlessness, especially as they become more and more their own people. But I also know that there will come a time far in the future when I look backward to the fleeting moments of babies and kids– and it will feel like a blink. And I will be an older mama looking at a younger mama wrestling sticky toddlers and it will seem like the sweetest moment of our past came back to visit for a split second. I will probably say something to her about cherishing it, but I will also add “I know this is hard. You are doing a great job mama. Be kind to yourself today.”