I was a bulbous nine months pregnant when I first heard the well-intentioned piece of advice that would haunt me every day through my first 13 years of parenthood.
“Enjoy every second while it lasts,” said a random woman in the supermarket through painfully gritted teeth. “It goes by so fast, and next thing you know, they’re awful teenagers.”
When my first son was born, I heard this sage wisdom-slash-threat again as I cradled him in my hospital bed, and again (ad nauseum) in the dozens of congratulatory posts that cluttered my Facebook feed. When we walked down the street, his cute, squishable face would draw strangers in like a tractor-beam; they’d crouch down strollerside to coo and giggle and babble incomprehensible gibberish to my baby, while wearing exaggerated smiles and eyes open wide like windows. Then they’d look at me with a wistfulness, their faces flushed with the pain of loss.
“You’re going to miss these days,” they’d say. “Hold onto them, because in 13 years, he’ll turn into a monster.”
My son wasn’t even a month old, and already, I was being forced into mourning for the days that had passed and dreading the stage that was on the horizon. When my son’s umbilical cord fell off I sobbed for an hour, knowing he’d soon be crawling, then walking, and then running off to college and never coming back.
His little brother arrived 16 months later, and every moment of my two sons’ early lives was subtly bittersweet. Every single second needed to be deeply cherished, not only because of love, but because the moment would be instantly lost, and lest I start to forget that, there was always a stranger to be found in a supermarket parking lot or the aisles of Target to “helpfully” remind me the clock was ticking and that before long, my baby would be a big boy, and then a snarling, smelly teenager who would want nothing to do with me.
My sons are now 13 and 14, with deep voices, comically large feet, gangly teenage bodies that have shot up past my 5-foot-9 frame. They are no longer “cute and cuddly;” I cannot hoist them on my hips or rock them in my arms. They have become the very creatures that I have been told to fear, and I have entered what many strangers warned would be the “darkest days” of parenthood. And you know what I’ve discovered now that I’m living the Teen Stage of parenting?
IT. IS. AMAZING!
Don’t get me wrong — I loved having little boys, and, yes, there’s a part of me that misses holding them in my arms, chasing them around playgrounds, and letting them lay on my chest until they drifted off to sleep. But it’s easy to idealize the past, putting a cutesy-wutsey patina on things that, at the time, were terrible. I don’t hoist them on my hips because they’re not helpless, and my back’s much better for it. I don’t rock them in my arms because they can fall asleep on their own, allowing me to have more quality time with my TV.
Before I had kids, I loved sleeping in; now that they’re teenagers, I can sleep in as long as I damn well please. They can brush their teeth, shower, make themselves breakfast and go about their lives without parental intervention. Do I miss being needed for every single teeny-weeny little freaking thing like an unpaid butler? Absolutely not. When my boys make enormous messes, they are the ones who have to clean it up, because I’m not an unpaid maid, either.
The baby-crazy peanut gallery must have forgotten what it was like to spend half their days waiting on their children hand and foot, cutting crusts off sandwiches and searching for lost toys.
Teenage boys may be famous for being idiots, but mine are a hell of a lot smarter (and interesting!) than when they were little. We share interests (both are budding photographers!), and can have real, honest-to-goodness conversations. We watch the same movies (they love the Coen Brothers), play the same video games (everything Zelda), and laugh at the same jokes (and none are fit for print). I can pursue new hobbies and interests, and they come along for the ride. Or, they go off and do their own thing, letting me be a real person — not just their mother.
There are moments when I get a little misty-eyed missing the little boys I’ve lost, but not as many as the moments where I’m in awe of the little men they’ve become. My relationship with them has gotten richer; I don’t love them just because they’re my sons, I love them because they’re thoroughly wonderful human beings. They get exponentially more awesome with every passing day. And that’s kinda the point of being a parent, right? To keep moving forward, and be a little better tomorrow than they are today.
Those baby crazy strangers were right when they said to enjoy every moment while it lasts, but they were wrong about the rest of it. When you’re living an action-packed life (kids are nothing if not action-packed), it doesn’t fly by too fast. I’m not sad about the past as much as I am stoked about the future. My teenagers have a big wide world to explore with infinite adventures to be had, and now that I’m not their butler, I can be their buddy. No one should tell young parents they should preemptively pine for the past. They should tell them to get excited, because the best is yet to come, and it just keeps getting better.