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When my babies were still babies, I heard the dreaded phrase over and over again.
“Enjoy every minute of it. It goes by so fast.”
I could barely stand in line at a grocery store, my tiny son strapped to my chest in an Ergo, without a soft-eyed older woman drizzling the advice on me.
I knew these women meant well. Their eyes were full of longing, their heads tilted. Some of them pressed a palm to their heart.
But for me, motherhood didn’t feel like it was going by fast, and I certainly wasn’t enjoying every minute of it.
Shrouded by postpartum depression and laden with a fussy, sleep-fighting baby, parenthood was little like I’d expected. I’d daydreamed of blissful moments, chubby baby cheeks, heart-shifting love. And I got them. But along with those blessings, I also experienced months upon months of sleep deprivation; long, blank nights of nursing; crying jags (both my son and I); and the overwhelming sense of being leashed, constantly, to someone else’s needs.
So when those women smiled at me, with their kind, nostalgia-soaked hearts, and told me, “Enjoy every minute of it,” I heard:
“These are the sweetest days of your life, and someday, you’ll regret not cherishing every single second.”
I heard, “Maybe you’re just not cut out for this parenting thing.”
And that hurt. Because I’d wanted to be a mother. I’d wanted it with every cell of my womb, with every pulse of my heart.
My son is 10 now. In the line at the grocery store, as I cram the conveyor belt full of baby carrots and tortilla chips and cheese sticks, I spy the new moms. And I can feel my own eyes go soft, I feel the echo of oxytocin pulse through me, I smell the heady scent of baby hair. My body remembers the sweet weight of a baby strapped to my chest, a baby who now plays football and does math and squirms out of approximately 73 percent of my hugs.
When I see these women, my body floods a bit with nostalgia, my head tilts. I smile and stare.
Because it is going by so fast—now that it’s not so brutal. Now that I’m not depressed, and I sleep well most nights, and we all cry less.
But I don’t say anything to the new moms—I certainly don’t tell them to enjoy every minute. I have no desire to time travel. I don’t want to relearn the hard lessons of early motherhood.
I know things now that I didn’t—couldn’t have—known when my babies were young. Like the fact that someday, I’d sleep again. That eventually, I’d reclaim my boobs. That it’s okay to loathe some of the mundane minutia of mothering, the same way we might loathe scrubbing the toilet or getting our teeth scraped at the dentist’s office. That it took me years—not mere weeks or months—to adjust to the job of parenthood, but I did eventually adjust. Mostly.
The truth is, it’s not possible to enjoy every minute of anything.
Even the best stuff, like sex and ice cream, wouldn’t be enjoyable if they were constant, relentless. There’d be ice cream headaches. And chafing. So why should we feel like we should have to enjoy every minute of one of the hugest, most impactful transitions of our lives?
It’s one thing to be mindful, to suck in the sacred moments of our lives, and of parenthood: the way my children’s faces go placid and moonlike when they sleep. The way that probably once every day, I’m stunned by the skin-wrapped miracle of them. The fact that my body once knit them together, carried them, made milk for them.
But that doesn’t mean we have to love the sh*tty moments. It doesn’t mean that, if we’re struggling with parenthood, we can’t pray and plead for things to get easier.
Mostly, when I see new moms, I think about how hard those early years were for me, with all the gorgeous moments sprinkled in between the hardness. How I’m still learning to hold all of the heavy and shimmering moments lightly, breathing through the rough ones, and breathing in the loveliest ones.