Often we don’t appreciate the parenting phase we are in when we are in it. A lesson learned from a stranger hits home.
This article was originally posted on Greenbelt Patch; it has been rewritten and updated.
When my kiddos were babies, older men and women would “ooh” and “ahh” over the handlebar of the stroller at my angelic sleeping child and often remark with a sentence that I only now understand, “they grow up so fast.” At the time, I’d kindly nod my head and smile, exhausted from lack of sleep and counting down the days to the monthly Moms Night Out when I could drink way too much and pretend I was 25 again—of course, paying for that decision for hours the next day.
One day, I was at the doctor’s office for my annual physical and having small talk with a nurse. Inevitably the conversation came to children—”Do you have any? How many? What are their ages?”
I shared my kids’ ages, and she immediately got a nostalgic look in her eye, “Oh, that’s such a wonderful age. Legos, Star Wars…Oh, I just love that age.”
I nodded my head, “Mm-hmm.”
As a parent, you know that when you are knee-deep in any stage, you aren’t really appreciating it. I didn’t appreciate the stage when my youngest as a baby wouldn’t let anyone hold them but me—all the time! Now that they are teenagers, I have to sneak hugs and kisses in when I can.
I didn’t appreciate the stage of having to constantly hold my children’s hands. Hunched over, my back in pain, while they learned to walk. Or the sticky residue left on my hand when they needed to cross the street, or walk in a crowd. Now, I can’t even remember what age they were when they wanted to do it alone without help.
What I do remember about that stage, during the conversation with the nurse, is vacuuming another small Lego piece into my Dyson—a piece that inevitably was the all-important piece to complete the Starfighter— that also broke the Dyson and required it to be serviced. And I admit that I did not appreciate that stage.
The nurse then told me about her 20-something son and how she blinked, and he was graduating high school, she blinked and he was graduating college, and now she doesn’t see him but a few times a year. I got a little misty with her as she looked off into space, telling me—the heartbreak was apparent on her face.
She remarked that if she could go back in time, she’d put him in fewer activities. I asked her more about that because it was often a conversation among the moms on the playground: what sport will your kid play this season?
My children were not inclined to play any sports. But I felt pressure from other parents about the decision not to force my children into sports. I would get looks when I would tell the other parents that I’m not enrolling either of my children in a sport, baseball, soccer, football, or otherwise.
“They need to learn how to play on a team,” they say. “How will they learn that you can’t win every time.”
Of course, I knew that my children would learn these lessons from being in school, in summer camp, as members of a rather large family with divorce and step-relatives. We can learn how to work on a team by being members of our community, and my children are very aware that they aren’t the winners every time.
I’ll be honest—I also didn’t want to give up my Saturday standing on the side of a field in the sun. And that is exactly what the nurse mentioned—that she spent most of her son’s childhood standing around on the side of a field talking to parents that she didn’t especially like, some she did. Still, looking back, she wished that those years were spent listening to her son’s ideas, his dreams and seeing him…really seeing him.
I got it. The message was loud and clear.
I believe that people come into your life when you need them. And ten years ago, I needed this nurse. I needed her story to remind me to listen and to hear my children. To enjoy the dull, non-organized sports moments so that when I looked back on their childhoods, I wouldn’t have regrets of precious time wasted on rushing from one activity to another, eating meals on the go, and stressing about getting their homework done in time before practice.
That one encounter hugely influenced my parenting, affirming my decision around overscheduling kids and giving me a quick sneak peek into the future. I am grateful that I was able to hear her. Today as I am on the cusp of being an empty-nester and we are knee-deep in college tours and applications, every moment feels like a clock ticking in the background. The conversation with the nurse is a lovely reminder for me now; time is almost running out! How I felt back then, that desire to not miss out on their lives still rings true today. And as that clock counts down the days till both kids have flown the nest, that reminder to be present and enjoy the moments comes back to my mind. I don’t want to miss any of this!
Thank you, Nurse—they do “grow up so fast.”