We have a saying in our church that you only have approximately 7000 days with your child from crib to college.
This idea has been weighing heavily on my mind lately. You see, my oldest and first born child, Alexandria (Ali), will be 9 this weekend. In less than a few days, we’ll be at day 3500.
Half way to 7000.
Sitting at a red light the other day, she was happily chatting to me about her day at school; the results of an AR reading test, the verdict on the lunch I packed, the girl drama in her class… and right there while I’m paused at the intersection waiting my turn to go, I almost burst into tears. They were right there on the edge of my eyes, overflowing onto my lashes. It hit me like a ton of bricks that this, this sweet, ordinary moment with my little girl won’t be happening too much longer. Pretty soon, the conversations won’t be so innocent. We’ll be talking about puberty (ugh!), getting her driver’s license (gasp!), the boy she’s interested in (gah!) and her Friday night plans (hopefully!). And eventually we’ll be discussing college options and moving out. These aren’t things I’m dreading, but they aren’t exactly things I’m looking forward to, either.
Ali was the most perfect baby. She rarely cried, took two naps a day exactly at 10:30am and 3:30pm. She was crawling by 7 months, walking by 10 months, running by 1 and potty trained by 18 months. She could sign over 30 signs, so she had an easy way to communicate with us, helping us to avoid random meltdowns. She was pretty much always happy, a rule-follower and extremely compliant. We truly were rockstar parents with our first–and she was the rockstar kid. I contemplated writing a parenting manual because Ali made this gig feel easy!
By the time she was 3, our son Asher had come along. Ali was the best big sis. My husband and I had strategically planted the seed of being a big sister months before her baby brother appeared. We referred to him by name, prayed for him, and discussed with Ali what role she would have as the big sister. When Asher arrived, she instantly fell for him. Now of course, brothers and sisters often bicker and fight, and our children are no exception. But under it all, we can honestly say our kids love one another. At almost 9, Ali is a big sister to three siblings. She’s graciously shared her bedroom for years, her toys, her clothes, and occasionally her toothbrush. Her little sisters emulate her and Asher continues to try to win against her in any outdoor activity. She is the measuring stick for everyone else. Whatever Ali can do, they can do too.
But being the mature kid is also a burden to bare. I knew from the time she entered this world, she was smart. I clearly remember the day she was born. It was a beautiful April morning, the tulips were blooming and here came this tiny bundle. She never even cried, just looked around the room with her huge, brown eyes. Ryan, my husband, called out to her and she moved her head to follow his voice. While I relished the newborn phase, I also witnessed the speed at which she was hitting her milestones. I encouraged her to reach just a little further, walk just a few more steps before reaching down to pick her up. When I knew we were expecting Asher, I thought about all the new transitions she would be going through—five point harness to booster seat, crib to twin bed, high chair to booster. All the BIG GIRL things. And while I would never have pushed her into anything I didn’t think she was ready for, the truth was, she was ready for it. She was ready for all the BIG GIRL things. And guess what? In a blink of an eye, at age 2, Ali was no longer a baby. She was a little girl with a sense of no fear, of adventure. She talked to adults like a kid in elementary school. She could undress and (mostly) dress herself. She used utensils and drank from an open cup. She was this tiny person with her own personality. She discussed her likes and dislikes and overall just continued to thrive. Of course, Ryan and I couldn’t have been more thrilled. We were so proud of our first born and what a mature, big girl she was.
Our youngest daughter, Paige, just turned two on April 1. She too is a sweet, funny and ironically very mature two-year-old. While she’s also already potty trained and sleeping in a twin bed, I took notice of her transitions more this time around. While I couldn’t wait for our first to grow up and be a big girl, I’m not sharing that same sentiment with our last. I’m holding onto Paige’s “babyness” just a while longer. I’m soaking in the morning breath and the need for help in tying shoes and brushing teeth. All the mundane, sometimes annoying tasks a mother has to do for a little one, I’m relishing this time around. I find myself telling Paige, “oh, let Mama help you with that” or “You’re too little to do that” when 7 years ago I would’ve been encouraging my daughter to go ahead and try it herself. It doesn’t mean I don’t want Paige to become an independent child, it just means I’m slowing down time a little bit. There’ll be plenty of years that she’ll be tying her shoes by herself, so for now I’m basking in the need to assist her.
I get asked by new moms a lot if there’s anything I’d do different in my parenting journey if I could go back to DAY 1. A do-over, a blank slate.
I look back in hindsight and sometimes regret not paying more attention to the day-to-day trivial things. I don’t regret pushing my baby to succeed and grow, but I do regret not trying to enjoy the moments more as they happened. I loved watching Ali learn to walk but I would think about when she might run. I loved watching her grow through her threes and fours but I’d think about when she would enter Kindergarten and start reading.
I think it’s natural for us moms to think ahead, to prepare. To be prepared. It’s in our nature to plan and push and force, and say, Hurry up! You can do it! Look! Johnny over there can tie his own shoe. You can too!
But then we can easily start the dangerous game of comparison. We start comparing ourselves as Mamas, and we start comparing our kids. Oh no! Little Mary over there is wearing big girl undies. Should my kid be in big girl undies?! We start second guessing what’s appropriate for our kids based on the milestones of our friends’ kids.
So I say this as an experienced mom of approximately nine years: New Mamas, ENJOY your time with your baby.
Sure, encourage, push, plan ahead… but enjoy too. Take time to see the beautiful highlights in your daughter’s hair instead of cursing under your breath at having to brush out the knots yet again. Take time to examine the way your son squints his eyes shut when he’s sounding out a particularly difficult word instead of getting frustrated that he still doesn’t recognize a K. Take stock in what those chubby arms feel like around you as they squeeze your neck too tight. Take a moment to say a prayer of thanks for the privilege of parenting your child day in and day out.
Today I’m more cognizant of stopping to watch my kids. The way their faces light up when Daddy gets home, the way the tops of their heads look bowed as we pray around the dinner table. I’m particularly tuned in to watching Ali. I’ve slowed down to see the world through her eyes and just enjoy being in her company. It’s a sobering thought to know we only have 9 more Halloweens with her. Only 9 more Christmas mornings. Only 3500 days until she graduates high school. So until then, know that this Mama is going to make the most of those days ahead.