The bitter part of my life’s bittersweet core

Jun05

I can close my eyes and be back in this afternoon, exactly 7 years ago, June 2005, with baby Whit, 2 year old Grace, and my grandfather, who is no longer with us

It’s not a secret that I struggled with my entry into motherhood.  Grace’s infancy was not my finest hour.  I remember large swaths of time as only a blur of tears and a wailing baby that occurred in a permanent twilight that wasn’t day and wasn’t night.  But, somehow, I remember with crystalline clarity one comment that I received over and over again from kindly, well-intentioned people, friends and strangers alike:

“Make sure to enjoy this moment.  It goes so fast!”

Just like everybody else I know, I heard this more times than I can possibly count.  And every single time, through the haze of my exhaustion and despair, I recognized a kernel of truth.  This sentence pierced my gloom over and over again.  But the truth is it made me want to scream; this is probably because the sentiment cut close to the bone.  As with all statements that are uncomfortably true, I did not like hearing it.  And I swore to myself I would never tell a mother with a newborn to enjoy this time.

And yet I have.  More than once, I’ve looked at a mother with a tiny baby, or a mother with a baby in a Bjorn and a two year old by the hand, dark valleys under her eyes and a slightly wild, exasperated expression, and longed to be back there.  The way I express this longing is to say: “Oh, those were the days.  They go fast. Enjoy them.”

Every time I kick myself: Ugh, Lindsey, you swore you’d never say that.  I can remember vividly my own negative reaction to those comments.  But I realize now that the people who said that were just sharing their own nostalgia the only way they knew how.

Even now, aware as I am of not wanting to squander these moments with my children at home, I find myself – daily! – wishing time away.  I am sore from the cold bleachers under my legs at soccer try-outs, I am listening to a detailed story about a 2nd grade bus ride that is being told in real time, I am tired myself, just want to get into bed with my own book, and this third glass of water is going to put me over the edge.  I have realized this is simply the nature of parenting; the adage that the days are long but the years are short is so powerful precisely because it is true.

I am much better at appreciating my experience than I used to be.  There’s no question about that.  But even when I really AM there, even when I’m fully open and appreciating all the sights, sounds, smells, and emotions of my particular life with my particular children at this particular moment, it still goes by too fast.  And this is the bitter part of my life’s bittersweet core: nothing I do, no paying attention and being here now can slow the drumbeat march of time.  No matter how present I am I cannot alter the hasty onrush of this life.

Sometimes that truth feels unbearably bitter.  Of course, yes, I do know that it’s bitter in direct proportion to the sweetness.  The presence I have worked hard to cultivate over many years has left me with very rich memories of this season of my life.  I’m grateful beyond expression for the way this blog has chronicled much of my life with my children.  I have thousands of photographs and dozens of letters.  But nothing I can do, neither white-knuckled hanging on nor meditative letting go, will make these days and years last longer.  I guess when I say the thing I swore I’d never say to new mothers, I’m trying to communicate that.  But I should stop, because I know it doesn’t help.

I’m pretty sure that my grandfather, in the photograph above, told me with a sigh that these days would go fast.  I know he handed me some notes that my grandmother had written about observing the development of boys (she should know: she had four).  But I also know that I probably shook my head, worrying about getting Whit down for a nap and making pasta for Grace, grimaced at the ugly plastic toys in my kitchen, and told him in a way that was both heartfelt and dismissive: I know, I know.

I thought I knew what he meant.  But I didn’t.  I do now.


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14 Comments

  1. Posted June 17, 2013 at 5:05 am | Permalink

    I remember large swaths of time as only a blur of tears and a wailing baby that occurred in a permanent twilight that wasn’t day and wasn’t night. But, somehow, I remember with crystalline clarity one comment that I received over and over again from kindly, well-intentioned people, friends and strangers alike:

    “Make sure to enjoy this moment. It goes so fast!”

    Yes. Oh, yes. This, exactly.

    As I’ve started giving readings from Waiting to Unfold, I’ve been amazed by the ways in which those poems — written during that first year, including the awful first months of colic and postpartum depression — preserve an experience I would otherwise have forgotten. My memories of those first months are of crying (his and mine) and darkness (it was New England winter when he was born, so it was dark a lot, but I think my memories of the darkness are more metaphysical than literal.) But because I wrote the poems while it was happening, they preserve memories. I’m grateful for that, even though I don’t miss those tough months.

    And I do get nostalgic now when I see people with tiny ones — so cuddly and new, with that new-baby smell and their soft fuzzy heads! I like to hold other people’s infants, now (I remember other people holding ours, and I would be so grateful to get a few minutes to use the bathroom or shower…) But like you, I promised myself I wouldn’t say that damn thing everybody said.

    admin Reply:

    I am looking forward to reading your book, and anticipate that it will bring a wash of memory back. My memories are all in the darkness too, and I’ve often noted the same thing you do, which is that that was likely as metaphysical as it was literal (though I still think bringing my first child home literally on the day the clocks went back for daylight savings was not helpful for the mood!). xox

  2. Dana
    Posted June 17, 2013 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    I woke up this morning not knowing that your post would be one of the absolute highlights of my day, week and accurately sum up my awareness this particular year. My eldest son is graduating 8th grade this week. (yes, I have an eight grader, a 14 year old son).

    I know, I know. How fortunate we are to simply know.

    Thank you. I needed a “hug” this week.

    admin Reply:

    Thank YOU. And congratulations! That is a big rite of passage. Thinking about you. xox

  3. Sarah
    Posted June 17, 2013 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    I know what you mean! I can’t believe how fast the years go by now. I say trite things to my kids like “I remember when you were just a little baby,” which annoys them because it seems like such a stupid thing to say, but I really mean so much more when I say that – I really mean that I remember so clearly a time that was so momentous and life-changing and hard and amazing, even though it is receding into the ever-more-distant past at an alarming rate. It also means I remember BEING a new mother and stepping into a totally new identity that didn’t exist before but is such a huge part of who I am now. But it’s impossible to say all of this succinctly, especially to kids. 🙂

    One of my peers recently died from breast cancer, and a mutual friend said it made her realize the importance of creating memories with the people who are important to you. That seems like a throwaway line on the surface, but I thought about it for days afterwards, and it also means so much more than it seems to. These experiences produce the sense of meaning we get in exchange for having to die someday. If things went on forever, they’d seem like nothing.

    Wonderful writing (and thinking and feeling), as always.

    admin Reply:

    That doesn’t sound like a throwaway line to me at all. It sounds like one worth considering and paying close attention to. Thanks for putting it in my mind today. xox

  4. Posted June 17, 2013 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    “Even now, aware as I am of not wanting to squander these moments with my children at home, I find myself – daily! – wishing time away. I am sore from the cold bleachers under my legs at soccer try-outs, I am listening to a detailed story about a 2nd grade bus ride that is being told in real time, I am tired myself, just want to get into bed with my own book, and this third glass of water is going to put me over the edge. I have realized this is simply the nature of parenting; the adage that the days are long but the years are short is so powerful precisely because it is true.”

    This entire paragraph describes my experience completely.

    admin Reply:

    Oh, mine too :). Thank you. xoxo

  5. Posted June 17, 2013 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    I too loved your honesty about how challenging it can be to listen to stories in real time, to sit through those endless tryouts, to deal with the bickering, the wet towels, the sand that trails from the beach to the bedroom.

    It’s always that bitterness and glory and YES, even knowing that, we still are faced with the passing of time, the loss of days. As soon as we let go fully of one thing, there is something else we have managed to cling to. We never master it and maybe that is the point. To be a learner in this lifetime. It humbles me daily, makes me full of joy and also brings me to my knees, full of tears. Thank you for so fully capturing these complicated feelings!! Gorgeous!!

    admin Reply:

    Bitterness and glory. YES. I’ve written pieces that use the monkey bars as an analogy, and that’s what your comment makes me think of: we let go of one thing and hang on another. Over and over. xoxo

  6. Posted June 17, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Lindsey, I rarely comment, but your words really speak to my heart—I am constantly feeling the loss within the joy of each year/month/moment (and i think i’ve passed on the trait—on our way to the airport to begin our vacation, my 3-year-old told me he was sad because we would be coming home in 7 days).
    I just had to thank you today, though, for pointing out the honest truth that, amidst the magic there definitely is the mundane, uncomfortable, and boring. It somehow makes me feel better to “hear” that you feel that way too. I want to “enjoy each day” and “treasure each moment” but sometimes I just want to sit in quiet, too!

    admin Reply:

    Oh, I know that tug when a child demonstrates something they clearly learned or inherited from you (I don’t know which it is: genetics or example). Thank you so much for commenting. xox

  7. Posted June 17, 2013 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Lindsey,
    I was thrilled to see YOUR quote from your Huffington Post piece on The Engagements in the New York Times Book Review ad for Courtney’s book!!!
    Congrats!!

    ~Jocelyn

    admin Reply:

    Thank you! I have heard that but haven’t seen it yet!! xoxo

  8. Posted June 17, 2013 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    My oldest son graduated high school a week ago. I’m having a tough time verbalizing how I’m feeling – I think in part because it keeps changing. In some ways, it feels like a lifetime ago that he was a terrible two. But then it doesn’t. I know that I am looking forward to enjoying him more – I feel a sense of relief – I will always be his mother, but I can now relate to him as an adult with less preaching and more sharing. It’s kinda cool.

    admin Reply:

    Congratulations! Wow. That is a big transition. Thanks for reminding me of all the ways this particular relationship keeps getting cooler … and it does! xox

  9. Posted June 17, 2013 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Oh, but it is in the searing sting of these realizations that we experience all the layers of beauty. I don’t want Briar to truly understand certain things yet, even as I say them to her. I imagine a day in the future, maybe I’ll be here, maybe I won’t, but my voice will ring in her ears and she will understand. It sustains me.

    Off to weep happy tears.

    admin Reply:

    Every single day, that searing sting. I’m so grateful that you know what it feels like. xox

  10. Posted June 17, 2013 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    “And this is the bitter part of my life’s bittersweet core: nothing I do, no paying attention and being here now can slow the drumbeat march of time. No matter how present I am I cannot alter the hasty onrush of this life.”

    This is what I have struggled with most as an adult. I can say that it is getting easier now. I don’t know why. In the past few years, I’ve been able to surrender to it more than ever before. Perhaps because I can no longer deny the truth of it. Perhaps because so many years have been spent, I don’t want to waste any more of what remains in unnecessary regret or angst. I remind myself constantly that all I really have is the moment I’m in. I notice it, and then let it go. Too much self-consciousness robs me of what I hope will be the joyful memories of my future.

    admin Reply:

    Thank you for reminding me of the power of simply being here. Sometimes my brain gets going on the gerbil run inside my brain … and I think you’re right, I do rob myself of something. xox

  11. Posted June 17, 2013 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    Lindsey, this post is so beautiful and bittersweet and sort of rips my heart in two just thinking about how fast they grow, how fast it all goes — you always put this into words so stunningly, and now you’ve gone and done it again! 🙂

    As someone still kind of in that “enjoy it now it goes so fast!” phase, I can say that I completely agree that it’s not always fun to hear that, not when you are lamenting the dishes that need washing and the books that need writing and the diapers that need changing and the sleep that needs having. I recently had a conversation with my sister in law, who is quite the philosopher, and she said something that has REALLY stayed with me. She said that she thinks we should compare life to that really hard hike: the one where we keep getting thirsty and tired and our back hurts and we’re out of shape. But when we’re done, we are so proud and psyched and we want to hike it again next weekend. We forget about the small, challenging moments and only see the big picture: what we did. Who with. What we saw. How we felt when we were done. I think it must be the same with parenting. Tomorrow, I will think about today’s smiles and hugs, not necessarily the hard moments. xox

    admin Reply:

    What a beautiful metaphor. I agree with you that it makes total sense. xo

  12. Posted June 18, 2013 at 5:01 am | Permalink

    I wrote something similar recently about the people who told me over and over again, “Enjoy it now. Little children, little problems. Big children, big problems.” I remember cursing them and thinking that no problem would be too big if I could just sleep through the night. It turns out those people were right too…

    admin Reply:

    Yes. They were right about that one too!

  13. Posted June 18, 2013 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Beautiful and eloquent, Lindsey. It reminded me of my yoga teacher’s quote that really resonated with me this weekend, “Waiting is pain.” (like waiting for soccer practice to end or the light to turn green) – if we’re waiting…. hurry up! impatient…. we’re suffering. But if we’re just being… it’s not so bad, we’re not wishing the time away.

    And yes, even when we are aware and living in the moment, it’s still only a passing moment. I guess it’s not about enjoying every moment (cuz that’s impossible) but simply showing up for them.

    Thanks for a great and thoughtful read!

    admin Reply:

    Thanks for chiming in here. I love what your yoga teacher says. Agree entirely. xo

  14. Diane
    Posted June 22, 2013 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    you wow me. you are spectacular. don’t diminish it.

    admin Reply:

    Gosh, what an incredibly kind thing to say. Thank you!! xo