The other day I hurried downstairs to our laundry/play area in the basement to switch over a load of wash after getting my daughter down for a nap. I had a cup of coffee in one hand and my iPhone in the other as I tiptoed down the stairs and did mental calculations about how much time I had to pack in my to-do’s before the wake-up wails wafted down from her room.
Like a lot of modern moms, I feel a great deal of pressure to keep our home functioning on very little sleep, bringing in some of the family’s income, and taking care of my toddler in a meaningful and memorable way. Even though my little girl isn’t quite 2-years-old, I already feel pangs of sadness at how fast she’s growing and I’m desperate to soak it all in. While getting through daily life and keeping my marriage and career afloat. It’s not easy, that’s for sure.
But on this particular day I stopped in my tracks as I approached the washing machine. In the center of the room sat my daughter’s miniature arm chair and in the chair was a large teddy bear. He was wearing a crown on his head and had a plate of play-food resting in his lap. I did a quick mental check and remembered us playing with this bear together, earlier, so I knew he hadn’t been set up like that by my husband or a babysitter the day before. My curious toddler had done it herself.
My heart swelled with the type of love and pride that only a mother knows — the same mix of emotions that washed over me the first time she pulled on her own shoe, and called out “ten!” after I’d just counted to nine. The strings in the part of my heart reserved for her milestones were tugged. My little girl is growing up so fast, becoming a nurturing little person, pretending to be a mommy herself. As I gently moved Teddy and the chair aside — crown and meal intact — so I could get to the washing machine, I felt tears filling up my eyes.
Because here’s the thing: Just that morning, at the time that my daughter was a few feet from me arranging her teddy for the feast of a small king, I was right there. And I missed it. I was texting photos of her to my own mom and arranging printed ones to put in a baby book. I was sneaking in an hour’s work so I could take her to the park later. Then, jotting down notes and milestones while she was awake by my side, adjusting the crown expertly atop her bear’s head. It was a small thing, I know. But it meant a lot more to me.
I’m often guilty of not living in the moment, and in this particular one, I felt the sting of my choices. I’m not a neglectful mom or a particularly distracted one. But I, like a lot of other moms out there, feel so much pressure to make the most of my daughter’s childhood, to fund it and fill it with adventures, not to forget a thing, that I’m missing things left and right while I’m planning and preparing, instead of focusing on what’s happening in the moment. I troll Pinterest for organizing and baking tips. Make collages and memory boxes, build sensory play stations, and snap selfies. But in all this time I spend trying to make everything perfect, and mark it down, what am I missing? I’m guessing a lot.
Taking a walk with my little girl and watching her try to say the word “flower” should be enough. Standing in the driveway while a plane flies over and seeing her face light up as she squeals “hi” to the people in the sky should be more than enough. Sitting nearby and observing as she decks her favorite teddy out for a meal at an imaginary castle is what I missed that morning. But what else, that week? What did I not see when she was coloring on the floor by my feet and I was taking forever and a day setting up a proper art project for us to do? What am I going to remember in a few years, when she starts flipping her hair over her shoulder and telling me to get a life when I ask about her day?
These years are fleeting and that fills me with desperation. Desperation to fill them up with memory boxes and macaroni art, rainbows of Jell-O, and heaps of photographs. But even though I have good intentions, I know I need to slow down. Put the fancy to-do lists aside. Let the laundry go one day. Tuck away my phone and take some pictures with just my eyes. Yes, there is value in special projects and keepsakes. Photographs are technology’s way of holding on. But my sweet girl is only getting bigger each day, and I don’t want to miss the good stuff.
Ever since the day the teddy wore the crown, I’ve left my phone in the other room for our morning play time. I’ve shifted my work-from-home schedule so I rise before she does and work only when she naps. I know there will be things I miss; that’s the plight of any mom, you can’t see it all. But I refuse to stand right next to her and miss it anyway. After all, it won’t be my projects, collages, and recipes I’ll want to remember later, it will be the things that came from her. The simplest moments that she created. Those are the ones I need to cherish.