The Kind Old Lady in the Target check out aisle always turns around when she hears their noise and smiles at you. She speaks briefly to your kids, tells you that your children are beautiful — even though their hair is tangled, they’ve got fruit-punch mouth and marker on their arms — and then tells you to “enjoy it while it lasts, it all goes by so fast.” At the time, you smile politely, roll your eyes when she turns back around, and with gritted teeth, forcibly separate your squabbling older kids who are fighting over animal crackers while the hungry twins wail in their carriers in the cart. You’re trying not to cry before making it out of the store and chastising yourself because you just had to have a latte since no child napped that afternoon for longer than 30 minutes, and oh yeah, you desperately needed Mylicon. And now all four of them are screaming. And everyone is staring.
But later, when they are asleep and you recount the day to yourself, you remember what the Kind Old Lady said: It all goes by so fast.
You think, I know.
My baby girl is in third grade now. Her sister is 16 months old. I look at my 1-year-old and see my 8-year-old as a baby. I’m caught off guard by the similar expressions that flash across their pretty faces, their crazy toddler hair, their scrunch-nosed smiles. I help my big girl with her test on the scientific method while at the same time helping my baby girl get mushed banana to her tiny mouth. In quiet moments, when my older two are busy with schoolwork or the TV and the twins with eating, I have a minute to marvel at the giant round head and fat cheeks of my baby boy, whose face and fierce love for his mama are so similar to those of his bigger brother.
I wanted my oldest to reach every milestone quickly. I wanted my second to take a long time. With the twins, now I know I’ll wake up tomorrow morning, and they’ll be 8, and their 16-year-old sister will barrel into my room, wanting the car this weekend. Slow down! I whisper to them while they’re sleeping, their fat feet tucked under their little bottoms, their dirty lovies gripped tightly in their dimpled hands, their milk breath warm on my face as I watch them in thankful amazement. Slow down! I yell, while my son propels himself skyward on the swing I had to push him on just last week. Slow down! I shriek, as my daughter takes off for the first time on her bike without training wheels, and I’m chasing her through a stop sign.
There are so many sweet firsts we’ve already had and will never have again — four first steps, four first birthdays, four first slept-through-the-nights, first teeth and first smiles, first laughs and first pairs of shoes. We’ve had last bottles, last onesies, last sleep sacks and last bassinets. We are a few years out from last diapers and last pacis, last first loose teeth. But I know those years will come quickly. There are always those songs that make me cry into my wine — the ones that implore and instruct, “Don’t blink,” “You’re going to miss this,” and “It won’t be like this for long.” “You’re gonna want this back…” my iTunes sings in my ears as I run. I know, I think, as my shoes hit the pavement, I know. Stop reminding me!
The days are long and always hard. Nighttime doesn’t always even offer respite before the chaos starts all over again. Every mama knows this. But the years are what make me wonder when my first baby vanished in the knobby-kneed 8-year-old or when our chubby-cheeked tank of a toddler grew into the tall, skinny 4-year-old. Only eight years have gone since I held everything I ever wanted in the tiny bundle in my arms in the hospital. One year has gone by since I held my double bundle with pure wonder and snuggled two sleepy newborns. Now I’m afraid to turn my back for even a second. Because, Kind Old Lady in Target, I know.
I’m going to miss this.