My twin sons started preschool this week. They looked so tiny yet so grown up as they ran to the front door of our house with their giraffe and fox backpacks precariously balanced on their small bodies. It seems everywhere they go these days they run. “Use your walking feet!” I catch myself saying over and over again. They’re still young and clumsy, and in their never-ending excitement they often crash into one another, their legs and feet tangled together as they trip and fall in the quest to get to…anywhere.
Days spent with these near five-year-olds are filled with laughter and endless questions: “Want to hear my joke?” “Can you read this book?” “Can we go for an adventure walk?” “Can I use these scissors to make a hole in the tree?” “Can I borrow the hammer to build something in my room?” “Do you think the ants stare at your feet when you put them in the creek?” “Are there sharks in this water?” “Why does it take six hours to freeze a popsicle? “Can I have a snack?”
These days of endless questions are punctuated by sharp moments of intense sibling rivalry only later to be soothed over in still, calm silence where one or both boys become silently enraptured with an ant hill, or a pile of rocks, or a Lego project. No matter how I try to make the most of each moment, there is an intensity and an acceleration to their existence. It makes me dizzy.
Then there is my two-month-old daughter. She eats; she poops; she sleeps; she wakes for short periods of time to smile and make the most beautiful babbly sounds. But then she’s back to eating and sleeping again. Though I know from experience just how fast these baby days go by, when I am feeding her on the living room couch or dancing her around the kitchen as I sing her to sleep, the moments pass in a hazy languor. Regardless if we’re sitting down at busy restaurant or at a park filled with screaming four year olds, when I hold and nurse this fat, little person, there is a stillness to our interactions, a momentary pause that proceeds the lively days of endless exploration ahead.
This week I was looking out over my overgrown garden, frustrated that I can’t keep up with everything. It needs weeding, harvesting, watering, and maintenance of all kinds. It happens this way every year. During the spring when things are just beginning to come up it’s so easy to savor each new sprout. I keep the garden tidy and somewhat neat. I tend to each little growth. But by summer everything just gets out of control. The whole thing becomes organized chaos at best. My daughter feels much like an early spring in my arms (at least for now). In my hands I hold on gently to the growing hands of my August-born five year olds as they run into the world growing, growing, growing. My boys are so clearly the summer.
Seasoned parents are forever telling new parents to enjoy these baby and preschool days. “They grow so fast,” everyone says. My mother died just a few months before I realized I was pregnant with our first children. I entered into parenting hyper aware of the swift passage of time and our inability to slow it down, bottle it, control it. When the days are hard and long and everyone is having a meltdown, and the cat throws up in the floor, and I am behind on my work, and someone has a sick stomach that results in a major accident in the front yard right as I realize I’ve locked myself out of the house, I try (emphasis on the word try, of course) to remind myself that this moment is still joyful. We’re together, we’re safe, our basic needs are met and there’s an abundance of acceptance and love. Everything else is just detail. Some days I manage to live in that reality and the days are magic. Some days I get caught up in the details. Parenting is a process of endless learning and growing in its own right.
There was a time when I thought my awareness of time might somehow save me from time itself. After all, I told myself, I know what it was like to face unexpected loss. I thought, perhaps, that by living each moment fully I could make it through my children’s growing up years with my heart intact. But here’s the thing fellow parents forget to mention: It doesn’t matter how much awareness you bring to each moment: the time still goes by faster than you can prepare for or even comprehend. Yes, it’s fundamentally true that living fully in each moment reaps great rewards and builds deep connections. But I have come to realize that no matter how intentionally we live in each moment it’s a fundamental part of the human experience to look around at the other humans with whom we share our lives (whether they be old or young) and wonder where time has gone and how we all wound up here.
If my garden is any indication, growth slows down and it speeds up, and it slows down and it speeds up, and goes on forever this way with or without our input. Though it may feel terrifying at times, I think it’s possible to reject our own adult desires to slow down time and allow ourselves, with child-like enthusiasm, to be swept up in the endless rhythm of it all. Doing our best to love them just as they are, in just the place that they are, as they grow and grow and grow.