By Ashley Ziegler
I remember a Target run back when my oldest daughter, Eva, was a newborn. I was utterly exhausted—and I looked it—and an older woman walked up to us, gazing adoringly at my baby in her stroller. Then, she said the thing that makes every sleep-deprived new mom’s blood boil: “It goes by so fast, enjoy it while it lasts!”
Internally, my response was something along the lines of, Lady, please just let me buy some diapers and formula in peace before this child wakes up screaming again. Externally, I clenched my teeth and smiled as if it was the first time I had ever heard the words she said and they had completely lifted my weary spirit.
Like basically every other parent, I’ve been given some variation of this advice many times over since I became a mom. And more often than not, I swear it happens when I’m in the middle of a tough phase of parenting that I’d do just about anything to make it go by just a smidge faster.
But then, last week, that age-old advice came flooding back to me when I let go of Eva’s hand and swallowed the lump in my throat, trying desperately to hold back tears as I watched her nervously walk into her kindergarten classroom for the first time. At that moment, I wanted nothing more than to hit the pause button and hang on to the preschool years for just a while longer.
Admittedly, the infant and toddler years were very difficult for me, but once she got to be a bit more independent and developed her own little personality, Eva and I became best friends. Since then, we’ve spent hours sitting next to each other creating works of art in her coloring books. We’ve snuggled up on rainy days watching Disney movies. She’s regularly come running into my bathroom begging me to let her wear glittery eye shadow. There have been many spontaneous trips to Dairy Queen for strawberry sundaes (with rainbow sprinkles, obviously). And we’ve had more dance parties and singalongs than I could even begin to count.
I’ve loved and savored the little-kid years. So when Eva walked into her kindergarten class, I was forced to face the fact that this precious chapter had come to an end. And, I know, moments like this are part of the deal in parenthood, they are to be expected. Even so, there’s nothing a mama can do to truly prepare herself for the physical ache she will feel in her chest each time one of these moments comes along.
Still, as hard as this milestone has been for me, when I think back on the advice from the older woman in Target I understand what she was saying, but I also think she had it all wrong.
Sure, right now, it feels like Eva went from a baby to a big kid in the blink of an eye. But I think that’s just because I’m mourning a little. When I wipe away the tears, take a deep breath, and look back on the last five and a half years with her, the reality is that each one has been a little better than the previous.
There is absolutely something to be said for being grateful for where you are in the present, but I think telling a parent to “enjoy it while it lasts” sends a message of impending heartache and sadness. And, honestly, who wants to feel that way?
Instead, I wish someone had said to me, “You have so much joy and fun to look forward to.”
The way I see it, I have an option: I can soak up each moment of Eva’s childhood while either dreading the passing of each year to come or happily anticipating how our relationship will change and grow as she gets older.
Rather than feeling sad that our rainy days full of Disney princesses are now numbered, I am so excited to listen to the rain hit the windows while Eva and I curl up on the couch reading chapter books together. While I will miss coloring books and crayons, I also know there are going to be lots of trips to Michael’s and complex crafts for us to do together in the future. And, if I’m being honest, I can’t wait until we start singing and dancing to music that is performed by the actual artist and not by KIDZ BOP. The future is bright!
There are a lot of adorable things that I know she’s going to quickly grow out of now that she’s entered the world of elementary school, but that’s OK. I’m choosing to spend our time with gratitude for today and hope for tomorrow.
And if the sorrow starts to creep in, I will take comfort in knowing that no matter what, she will never be too old for a trip to Dairy Queen for strawberry sundaes (with rainbow sprinkles, obviously).