Three years ago this week, I drove across the country with my family to start a new life. Ten years ago this week, I learned I was pregnant with my oldest son. So naturally, I’ve been staring at baby pictures all week.
No matter which child or which age I see, the same emotion bubbles up every time: yearning. Bringing my second baby home from the hospital, his wide-eyed year-old brother chewing his pacifier while perched by his side. My oldest two as toddlers, splattered with mud and captured mid-jump, not a stitch of clothing between them. My little girl as a baby, just barely enough hair to pull into pigtails, looking earnestly at the camera as she bites into a cupcake. Each one draws up a deep longing in me.
The moments, every one of them, were so precious, so fleeting, and so immeasurably hard. I was always exhausted, always distracted, always doing too many things at once, and almost always pregnant. When I see the little years, what stands out are the moments I barked until they submitted, the times they wailed into my leg while I sighed. Each sweet picture is weighted by the stress and strain I felt during that time.
Is it true for you too? Do you look at baby pictures and feel the same yearning? Regret is not the right word. It’s in the same family, but more subtle. I long to relive it, but this time I want to do it better. I want to hold that baby and notice only the brush of his breath against my collarbone, without also carrying the weight of failure for the forty minutes he cried before drifting off. I want to hold that beautiful, easy-going toddler girl again and enjoy her, just her, without reliving the wave of exhaustion from lugging my hugely pregnant self up a flight of stairs, toddler on my hip, and prodding little boys along in the rush to get to preschool on time. I want to go back to each moment and relive them the way they appear in the pictures. Not the way they actually felt.
But something about that longing doesn’t sit right with me. It’s true, the early years with my kids were excruciatingly hard. But they were also beautiful and good and true. Maybe I did sigh, but always just before I scooped them up and comforted them. For all the times I yelled and barked, there were as many moments where I calmly explained what we were doing next. Sometimes I was exhausted and impatient. Others, I was exhausted and kind.
It’s time to let myself off the hook. It’s time to remember not just the hard, but also the good.
Not only for the baby season. It’s true for any area of life. Every connection I’ve forged between myself and the wider world has been equal parts hard and sweet, awful and lovely. The baby years were some of the most intense of my life. Intense does not mean bad. Hard does not equal failure. I want to hold on to the goodness, too.
Life is a matter of what you see. These days, my goal is to strain out the right things. To stop holding each moment to a measure it can’t possibly attain. It’s time to leave room for all of it.
All of their childhood is fleeting, and precious, and hard. When I look back on this time, I don’t want to just remember the feeling of slogging through another round of dinner dishes, the stern orders at chore time. Please God, may I also keep the sound of the big boys laughing in the darkness, the way my sweet daughter shrugs off her mistakes, the times my heart met theirs in their frustration or struggle. I want to remember dancing in the kitchen with my oldest while scrambling eggs on school mornings, Michael Jackson routines on the back porch, the stories we read together. It’s time to focus my eyes on the right things, the important things.
Life is hard. It is also good. I’m praying to hold on to the good.