Every year, starting in mid-May, I am reminded via a picture of some child I don’t know, that my own children’s lives are, apparently, ticking time bombs. Popping up on my feed, scroll after scroll, this tiny girl greets me much like some old relative only seen a few times a year; the one who walks up to your toddler and says “Oh honey, where are your socks? Your feet must be cold. Mommy really should put some socks on those feet,” before casually breezing out of the room.
Cool. Thanks for that.
“Woof.” “Oh my God this got me.” “#perspective.” The poster writes, then shares the image into our collective brain trust, while thousands of waves of mom guilt begin churning across the internet like the seas in Moby Dick before Ahab nabs the white whale.
I can’t think off the top of my head of any mother who doesn’t understand how this gig works.
A child is born and he is helpless, depending on his parents for the totality of his survival. Later, the child walks, talks, tries to climb things he shouldn’t. Later still, the child, who can now make a grilled cheese and pour himself a glass of milk, depends on you for guidance and, although you have to stand outside the (now locked) bathroom door and remind him to actually wash himself in the shower and not just stand in there like a zombie, you are needed less and less. This is the natural progression of things.
You raise your children to leave you.
This fact tinges every day, every year, every milestone. It is the constant undercurrent of motherhood, the ultimate sacrifice that no one gets until they do. It is the unspoken fact that grips at us, gnawing through our very bones as the minute hand continues to move forward. It is one of the saddest, most cruel, and most inevitable parts of parenting. He will always be your child, you always his mother, but if you’re successful at the role you’ve been given, that toddler who brings you a fist full of dirt with a worm in it, eventually towers over you and calls you sometimes from his apartment. If we all stopped to dwell on this every day, we would go insane.
My oldest son got his flip flops muddy last night and today he looked at me and asked to wear mine as he was already sliding his foot into the shoe. “You can Bud, but…” The words caught in my throat. My warning that they would be too big and that he’d likely trip and fall didn’t actually need to be spoken aloud; they fit. In fact, they were a little small for his foot. I noticed his heel ever so slightly careening off the back edge of them as he walked away.
I get it. He’s growing up. I don’t need some stranger’s child immortalized in a meme to remind me.
Generally, I like to assume that most parents are doing the best we can. I try, like most moms I know, to balance a healthy amount of work and play, of mundane errands ran from regular backseats that once contained boosters, with special trips planned from faces that now barely look up from iPhones. There are vacations and cancelled plans. Parties I can’t get them to and events they never miss. There are camps and camp wait lists. There are whole days spent together and days we barely cross paths because of my work schedule. And yet, I’m well aware, even without it being said, I only have 18 summers just like this.
I feel horrible about something at least 20 times a day, and even still, I’m trying my best. I cannot constantly be mired down by some phantom summer countdown looming over every regular, non magical, summer’s day for 18 years until poof! The kid who likes guacamole because of the “abacaboes” in it crawls on top of his lofted dorm mattress to smile for a picture in front of movie posters and school colors.
Motherhood simultaneously makes me feel the worst I have ever felt about anything and also like I am doing a pretty good job; most often more of the former not the latter. Why then, would I want to be reminded constantly of something that makes me sad? Why would any of us? Did anyone really forget how long it takes our kids to grow up? This isn’t soap opera boarding school where sometimes the child actor is gone for a month, sometimes six weeks, sometimes three episodes then returns as a 20-year-old actor we’ve never seen before. There isn’t a margin of error we should account for that this meme helps us remember. I know how the passage of time works.