Last month my daughter started preschool. The month before that she turned two. The month before that, one of her best friends moved away and she began asking for her incessantly, wondering where Parker had gone and why she wasn’t at playdates anymore. The month before that she developed her first real fear: the “beep beep” of our house smoke alarm. And around that same time she started saying “bless you” whenever someone sneezed.
In the span of just two seasons of “Game of Thrones,” my daughter has become a person. She went from an adorable but exhausting handful of sweet baby flesh to a tentative but curious crawler to a willful walker who now rides a Micro Mini scooter like she was born to do it. The parenting clichés that whimsically warn about the early years going by in the blink of an eye seem understated to me. I’m getting whiplash with how fast my daughter is developing.
But rather than slow things down, I want to experience them twice. First as everything comes at me—tantrums and tickle fights and everything in between. And then I want to live this life in reverse, because I already know the outcome of this incredible adventure of raising kids.
Like so many people, I find it incredibly hard to live in the moment. My daughter is doing a million cute and funny things a minute, but I only catch a small fraction of them because I’m too focused on checking the boxes off my to-do list and making plans for the near and far future.
A lot of the time, I rationalize away the mom guilt. “Isn’t a house infested with ants worse than having my toddler play solo for 15 minutes?” so I can do the dishes and clean the kitchen without her climbing into the dishwasher again. And “If I don’t make this timely phone call now then I’ll be preoccupied thinking about it and won’t be able to give my daughter my full attention” so I can return calls from six days ago.
Most days I do the math and am glad to see that I spent more time playing with my child than I did on the punishing combination of housework and paid work that I’ve committed to doing. But some days I fall short and wish I had a second chance of some sort.
Becoming a parent has helped me savor the present a bit more than I used to (I never thought I’d spend an entire morning watching a furry caterpillar traverse concrete), but I still wish life could be lived in reverse.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
If I could hit rewind while already knowing how things turned out, then I could relax more and enjoy things as they happened. Things that currently take up residence in my mind and threaten to keep me up at night would no longer bother me. Like, what will my career look like after kids? What will my marriage look like after another baby? How many children will I have? Will I have another miscarriage? Will any of my kids challenge me in ways that I can’t handle without professional help? Will our dog always be patient and understanding around little ones? And will we ever have a fully functional basement playroom?! Knowing these answers upfront would put my mind at ease and help me enjoy the present in ways that I just can’t right now.
Also, I could actually appreciate the newborn, baby, and toddler years. So many of the early years in parenting are getting past difficult phases (sleepless nights, colic, ear infections and illnesses, potty training, tantrums, separation anxiety). Think about if you already knew the adults your children would grow up to be and how that would affect your experiences with them as babies. I think about this ALL THE TIME. Like if my daughter turned out to be a veterinarian, I could focus more time and energy in her early years on helping her learn to care for our dog, instead of spending so much time keeping them separate right now because it feels too chaotic.
And I think about how I would savor the late-night hours together, the constant need for attention, the insanity of it all, rather than wish it away sometimes. If I could parent in reverse, I could fulfill all the clichés I failed at the first time: “soak it up” and “savor every minute.” But also because I’d already know when my daughter said, “I love you, Mommy,” for the first time. And this time, I’d be ready for it.