Recently, my son turned nine. Every birthday brings with it nostalgia and prompts a stock-taking, but this birthday seemed different, somehow, and not just to me. I talked to some other moms about it, friends I've known since our kids were in Mommy Group together as infants, and they agreed, this birthday felt different. Not more meaningful or anything -- it just felt like the kids had suddenly gotten really, really old. Like they'd stepped onto the bridge that takes them from little kids to the thing that come next .
My friend Grace, whose daughter is one day younger than Primo, told me: "She's nine, and that marks the halfway point of the years she'll spend living with us. We're halfway done with that part of her life. And it's happening so fast, I can't even pay attention most of the time."
I didn't stop to tell her that what with the trend of twenty and thirtysomethings continuing to live at home, her daughter might have another decade before she reaches the halfway point.
"It just made me think," Grace went on, "Am I doing a good job as a mom? I don't even have the time to think about it."
And we won't, I suspect, until much much later, until it's too late in fact, to make a difference. You'll never "enjoy them while they're young" as much as you wish you had. You'll never "savor every moment." But you savor some, and that just has to be good enough.
On Primo's birthday, all three kids were home sick: strep, strep and a double ear infection. It wasn't the birthday I'd hoped for him. I was exhausted from being up half the night with a suffering baby and I suddenly went all Tiger Mom on him and forced him to write thank you cards and drill his times tables and I yelled at him about watching too much TV. When I stopped to ask myself "Am I doing a good job?" that night, I thought, "No."
Then, a few days later, when he was back at school, I met him for lunch. We had burgers and he told me about Ponce DeLeon. And I looked at him, awe-struck, just bowled over by the enormity of it, all of it. That he was my son. That I'd carried him in me for those long months at a time that was now long ago. That there was a time before he existed. That despite of me and because of me, there was this beautiful, kind, loving, funny person sitting opposite me, a person I'd never be whole without anymore, a person I would think about, and worry about, every minute for the rat of my life and beyond, a person that was part me but more and more not-me every day. I just sat there and marveled at him, and motherhood, at time. And the moment stretched on, like something out of a Virginia Woolf novel, and it felt, for once, that I wasn't missing any of it.
Nicole is a parenting writer who contributes essays and articles for magazines like Parenting, Parents, American Baby and Babble. She lives in Brooklyn with three children, one husband and a morbidly obese goldfish.