At the grocery store last week, I couldn’t help but hear the commotion in the next aisle over: A tiny newborn crying, an adorable little voice asking repeatedly for a cookie, and something banging into a shelf. As I rounded the corner, I saw a huge plastic truck cart being driven by a preschooler while his toddler brother escaped out the passenger side to grab a package of animal crackers. Their mom was trying to hold a binky in their newborn sister’s mouth while maneuvering that obnoxious cart (hence the banging sound). I walked past them and gave her an empathetic smile — even though she couldn’t look up long enough to see it.
A few minutes later, the whole noisy crew was in the checkout line and an elderly lady behind them was talking to the mom.
“Awe, how precious they are,” she said. “Enjoy every second.”
The young mom just nodded politely and continued to place her items on the counter. Even though it’s been 10 years since I was in her shoes, I knew what she was thinking.
At that stage, I remember people telling me constantly to “enjoy every moment” and that “you’re gonna miss this,” and all I could think was “really?” Was I really supposed to love it when 3-year-old Isaac repeated “Mommy-Mommy? Mommy-Mommy?” (yes that was my first and last name) 25 times through the bathroom door? Was I supposed to enjoy when rambunctious 18-month-old Alex ran off so fast at the park that I had to sprint to pull him away from the street? And was I really going to miss waking up every single hour to feed miss Anna in the middle of the night, making me so tired I couldn’t see straight enough to pour the boys’ cereal for breakfast?
I often walked away from those people wondering: If I don’t truly love all of these things, am I not a good mom?
I know now that those who say you should treasure every moment have the best intentions; they’ve simply been away from it long enough that they’ve replaced their stressful memories with all the happy times. I have to admit that the farther away I get from those tough years, I find it harder to recall what I stressed about. I look at pictures that pop up in my Facebook memories and think “awww they were so cute” and “awww I miss those days,” instead of being embarrassed about all the clutter in the background or the filth on their faces. I hardly remember the hassle of hauling a heavy diaper bag or the concern of getting the kids home in time for a nap. And I honestly can’t even recall why I got so mad at my husband so often (although I’m sure there were plenty of good reasons).
But as glad as I am that good memories with my kids have become more prominent as time moves on, I haven’t forgotten that their younger years in general were really, really hard. I want moms who are at the same stage as I was a decade ago to know that you are doing nothing wrong if you don’t love it all. It’s hard not knowing what to do when your kids are sick. It’s hard when your house is a mess at night even though you picked things up all day. It’s hard feeling lonely — even in a house full of little people. Your feelings are valid and very, very real.
And at the same time that I will tell you it’s not possible to love everything about little ones, I also won’t be one of those who says “Don’t worry…it gets better.” Yes, I’m now in this sweet spot where my kids are nearly self sufficient, but it’s not fair to tell you to look forward to something you can’t begin to imagine. You will get to a time when conversation flows around the dinner table; a time when you can walk alongside your daughter instead of picking up her sippy cup that she throws out of the stroller (again and again and again); a time when you’re laying in your bed at night reading a book of YOUR choice and your teenage son comes to hug you goodnight before heading to his own room. But none of that will happen without getting through these sweet little years when you learn what works for one kid but not the other; when you determine what to worry about and what to brush off; when you gather up as many snuggles as you can possibly get before they’re too cool to give them.
So to all the young mamas out there, you’ve got this. You won’t always be handing out animal crackers nonstop or digging for clean binkies throughout the store, but while you are, it’s okay not to love it. And remember that while you’re longing to be like those of us who aren’t pushing giant plastic carts, we’re looking at you wishing we could be back where you are — just maybe not for every single moment.