There’s a scene from the American version of the television series “The Office” where Andy Bernard, played by actor Ed Helms, says, “I wish there was a way to know you were in the good old days before you actually left them.” It’s a poignant take that comes at the end of a beloved show that was great at highlighting all those interactions big and small that can turn co-workers into a sort of family. And it’s a line that’s particularly relevant to parents of young children.
I came across a meme about this scene recently and it made me put my phone down and pay attention to what I was missing: my two girls having one of those funny conversations that only toddler logic can produce, my husband laughing at them while puttering in the kitchen and a baby cooing in my lap. In that moment I thought to myself, “This is it. I’m in the good old days. Soak it in.”
Motherhood during the small-child phase is one long good old day, but it can be difficult to recognize that when you’re in the thick of it. Forgive me for forgetting to revel in all my child’s specialness when I’m running on no sleep. It’s almost like “Be present” is just one more commandment of parenthood that we’re destined to break, along with, “Not too much screen time,” and “Make them eat their veggies.”
But I’m grateful for these occasional reminders to be mindful, take those mental snapshots and file these moments away as core memories, even the most mundane-seeming ones. Because, while it’s such a cliché to write it, this time really does go by so quickly. Parenthood is one long series of mourning the passing of the person your child used to be as they change and grow at light speed.
When I found out I was pregnant with my third, I had a mini mid-life crisis at the thought of going back into that long, dark tunnel of early childcare, full of diapering and constant supervising, when I was so close to the end of it. My girls were 5 and 3 and gaining a ton of independence; I was supposed to go back to a life where I could focus on myself again, not start all over. But as they shed even the very few baby traits they have left, their limbs lengthening and the roundness leaving my younger daughter’s belly, I realize that I am so, so grateful to have one more actual baby to squish and snuggle for a little while. The extra benefit of having one last baby is knowing that these are the last times for certain things.
I can trade another three years of my life to have more baby in it when I weigh that against the decades that will make up my lifetime without one. So I’m going to bask in these heady days and recognize these for what they are while we’re in them. And I’ll have to remind myself to do the same when I’m a mom of not-so-small children, a mom of big children, a mom of teens, and college kids, and young adults and so on for each phase to be cherished for the rest of our lives. I can do it though, because I now have that meme saved as my wallpaper. Ha.
My husband asked me later that night what I had been thinking about, because I seemed spaced out with a funny look on my face. When I told him I was realizing that we were in the middle of the best days of our lives, he laughed. “Ah, the best days…” Legos everywhere, the dining table piled high with junk, lines etched around our eyes from no sleep, maybe not the best visually. But I know that we will miss this chaos when it’s gone.