I have an unusually clear memory of window shopping, back when I was pregnant with my second son and pushing my firstborn around in the stroller. I remember seeing tiny infant t-shirts emblazoned with the words, “Future Member of the Class of 20??” Which made me laugh. Babies being born to graduate in the next millennium! From there I did the math in my head, and came up with the unfathomable notion that my soon-to-be second born child might finish college and be launched into adulthood in the year 2015, two-plus decades hence. What a hoot!
Well, yes. Except that we seem to have magically fast-forwarded to that farfetched date. And here I am, texting that baby of mine, reminding him to stop by the Alumni Office’s Senior Desk to pick up his full allotment of tickets for his upcoming commencement events and activities. Which is bearing down on us like a freight train, as May speeds by.
Somehow, some way, that tiny little fellow of mine is about to graduate from college.
How did we get here, so soon? At the speed of light, and all in good time, simultaneously? How is this possible?
We all know it instinctively, this universal truth of motherhood. It goes without saying—and yet, I find myself alerting parents of babies and toddlers, when I see them in the grocery line, at the library, pushing strollers or chasing tricycles: “The baby hours crawl by,” I tell them in my sage older mother voice, “But trust me, the years will fly.”
The times when I would give anything for my two boys to pleeeease, just go to sleep, and let me have a quiet corner of the day to myself—well, those memories are so far in my rear mirror, I can barely retrieve them. Recollections of cranky towheads who sobbed when I cut the muffin in half, or fussbudgets in my grocery cart, demanding items I wouldn’t buy, or infants in front-packs, deciding that the time to have an explosive diaper situation was when I was furthest from home and least well stocked with clean-up options—those flashbacks only bubble up when I come upon a young parent in a similar situation. Put a mother with a colicky newborn ahead of me in the checkout line, and watch me go into my “soothe the baby” sway, as if no time had passed. It’s a vestigial motion, a remnant of signals and synapses I didn’t know I could still respond to.
Oh, it’s been a long, long time. The babies I cuddled grew long and lanky, their voices changed, their blonde hair grew browner, their soft cheeks went stubbly. And along the way, my parenting requirements shifted from kissing boo-boos to…well, what exactly, these days? What do they need from me?
Precious little, that’s the truth. They like my cooking, they extol me as the family parallel parking champ, they appreciate it when I suggest we meet for lunch and I pull out my credit card on their behalves. Sometimes they need to borrow a car, or could use some help moving in or out of wherever they might be, but honestly, even that’s light lifting, given that their requests for favors are so few and far between. I haven’t even been able to offload the boxes of mismatched kitchenware labeled, “Someone’s future apartment” that I started packing up years ago. They’re a pretty self-reliant duo, so far.
I remember this moment vividly. We were having breakfast at an outdoor cafe before haircuts. My younger son always had better success in the barber’s chair if he had a something to read. So the two of them went across the street to the newsstand, to purchase the latest issue of Mad magazine. I snapped this shot as they crossed the street on their way back. I remember imagining them as the teens they would soon be, that they were becoming, right before my eyes.
* * * * *
Am I sad that my babies are all grown up? The answer is an unqualified no. I love the young men my sons are turning into. And I don’t regret the passage of time, for them or for me. Each phase, each era, happened when it was meant to happen. I look at mothers and babies in the grocery checkout line now, and I wonder how I did it. Was that really me? The me I am now knows that I wouldn’t last a day on 24/7 fussy baby duty, or angry toddler duty, or shouting match homework duty. I definitely don’t have the wherewithal to be The Mom who Calls to Check the Plan, the Mom who Asks if the Parents Will Be There, The Mom Who Nudges About SAT Practice Tests and Common App Essays. It was exhausting, so much of it. And I need more sleep now than I did back in those anxious days. I did it when it needed doing, and truth be told, I’m relieved that the hard parts are over.
I also know, sure as sunshine, that I haven’t been lying to those new mothers. Despite those please-get-us-closer-to-bedtime toddler walks around the neighborhood after dinner, despite the mind-numbingly boring games of Candyland and Go Fish, despite the endless times when adult conversation was made impossible by the constant refrain of Look At Me, Look At Me, Look At ME! Those years did, in fact, flash by—whole gestational phases, quick as minutes, just when it felt like the minute hand was stuck.
I also know there was more to it than the hard parts. I get reminders nearly daily, when I come upon ephemera from my kids’ childhood days. I open a drawer to find shopping lists from days gone by, and I smile. I pull out an extra blanket from the linen closet and find toddler art, and I grin. There was wonder and delight in being the mother of my boys when they were young, when the world was new to them, when I got to see it through their eyes. There was the complete magic, back when one was figuring out how to talk, new words bubbling up every day, while the other was learning to read, pouring over books, sounding out syllables. It was an honor to be the custodian of those triumphs, to support those amazing feats. I remember thinking that I hadn’t done anything anywhere near so impressive as what my toddler and preschooler were doing, at that moment, since, well, I couldn’t remember when. Still can’t.
We made it through the all-consuming parts, and the frustrating parts, and the sketchy bad-decision-making parts. The junior high hide-the-alcohol-in-the-Gatorade bottles parties, the high school graduation road-trip to the abandoned condo (where the thing I should have worried about wasn’t even on my radar, that being kids driving country roads in the dark and hitting moose!), the trips to the emergency room. As I noted to my college classmates in my last reunion report, it seemed like just nanosecond had passed, when our older son evolved from that risk-taking man-child into the uber-responsible head bartender at my sweetie’s last college reunion. How did we get here so fast? I have no idea, but I sure am glad to be here.