My mind is often consumed by the future. I love talking to parents who are 5, 10, 20 years ahead of me. I soak up what they think they did right and what they wish they could do over again. My kids are not their kids. I am not them. I know that. But I like to find patterns; I think there’s truth hidden in the commonalities.
Many people, women especially, worry that they didn’t enjoy this time enough. The time when the kids were so little. I don’t even have to poll my friends to figure that out; I just walk through the grocery store with a kid (or 5) and the advice just falls out of passing mouths: “Enjoy every minute!” “The days are long but the years are short” “They’re so cute and so easy right now! Enjoy it!” “You think it’s hard now, just wait till you have teenagers!”
In those moments I start to wonder- what is the separation that is coming that makes my situation today, clingy and sticky and whiny as it is, seem so nostalgic?
I don’t actually need to know the details of the hardness. I think I can imagine some of the angst, the disagreements, the physical distance that is coming. And I know it will hurt. My heart has been pierced by goodbyes before.
When I picture myself as that older grocery store woman staring at the supermarket family, I imagine having a layer of wisdom from all the years I will have spent parenting, and there’s kind of a melancholy lens. Maybe even some guilt? Knowing myself, I will wonder if I enjoyed my Babies enough. I will have passed through many more seasons of Hard, and I will wonder if I loved them enough. I will wonder, and I will worry.
So, here’s a letter to my future self -written today in the “trenches of motherhood” as it is sometimes called (although I’m not convinced this is my hardest season, or that a war analogy is even a good one…).
Dear Future Caitlin,
I write this to you in the midst of the season of tantrums, boogers, diapers, sleepless nights, and isolation- a season without accolades and consumed by the total giving of oneself to those who need physically and need emotionally and need spiritually and need and need and need… This is written with the backdrop of yelling and screaming and fighting and tears and anger, some of that even coming from the kids.
But I’m not writing it to confirm your worst fears: that the above was the sum of your days parenting Littles. Yes, that hardness exists. Yes it is sometimes consuming. Yes, there are nights when reviewing the day you struggle to find one decent thing you said to or did for your kids- besides keep them alive.
But that is not all that exists in this season, and I know it. I believe it.
In the hardness now, I know (as best I can) that my kids are blessings, that they are little, and that time is fleeting.
Please don’t worry. You did enjoy your children. You do. There are moments right now that take your breath away with their poignancy and beauty. There are sun-dappled afternoon snuggles. Audible gasps during read aloud plot twists. So much twirly dress spinning. Big, hard questions asked with curiosity and a sense of discovery. You can see the synapses connect in their tiny, awesome brains, and it is miraculous.
Some moments you are privileged to witness and some moments you actually experience: like belly raspberries resulting in delicious giggles. You love these kids so much, you could almost eat them. Especially those baby cheeks. This is an absolute gift of Eucharisteo- love transformed into pure thanksgiving.
Some days you can’t hug hard enough or long enough because you can literally feel them getting bigger and pulling away quicker. Every inch they grow is a physical reminder that time is passing.
I try to send you time-traveling telepathic snapshots of the good moments. I try to etch them into my own neurons, revisiting the memories often in the hopes that they are as clear and beautiful when I am you as they are now. But I also take a lot of pictures, because I also know that sleep deprivation is a thief who steals all my good memories and leaves all the bad.
Maybe all you remember is the hardness. I hope that’s not the case because there is also love. So much love.
So, let go of the guilt. Let go of the worries. I’m here, today, to tell you (be you future Caitlin of 4 years, 14 years or 40 years) that Caitlin with All The Littles, Caitlin of 2019, does enjoy the moments. I try to send up a silent prayer of thanks for the goodness and holiness I get to witness. I fail. I fail a lot. But not as much as you might remember.
When you see that mom in the supermarket- with her dozen children hanging off the cart like monkeys- and your heart both leaps and drops because those crazy, snot-nosed kids remind you of four year old Dom, or two year old Sissy, or six year old LuluBell, or eight year old Mo or Baby Teo, (who by your time are no longer diminutives and most definitely Monica, Lucia, Dominic, Genevieve and Mateo), look at that Mama. See her bleary eyes, frazzled hair, desperate attempt to distract the screaming baby with her phone (or whatever weird tech thing exists in the future) and see her and smile at her. Give her a high five if it seems right. Tell her, “The nights are long” but don’t end it with “but it’s so worth it”, instead- stage whisper “and you’re doing a great job.”
You can say that with confidence. Without a shred of that desperate guilt that comes out by way of advice- Don’t make the same mistakes I did. ENJOY IT! ENJOY those babies!
Because you did enjoy it.
I am enjoying it.
Love, love, love you. I’m still working on loving me, but I’m sure you’ve got that figured out by now, right?
Also, will Dom ever stop licking the church pews? Does Lucia become a nurse? Does Monica still feel and care so desperately? Is Sissy a prima ballerina or a roller derby pro (I could see her going either way)? Does Teo’s big smile still split his whole face in half? These are things I can’t wait to find out, so I’m a little jealous that you already know. If you figure out how to time travel, let me know, k?