Dear Future Self:
I feel a bit Anne Shirley-ish in even penning this letter, a bit day-dreamy, a bit romantic. Will you read this and laugh at your poor, naïve, childish self? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
Regardless, I’ll write it, because unless you’ve grown and matured in some remarkable ways – ways that would render you nearly unrecognizable to the incarnation of you that is writing this letter – I suspect that you might feel some guilt about these early years of motherhood. (Guilt might be too strong a word. Perhaps regret is better? Or maybe I should say it differently altogether – that you second-guess yourself, wondering if you should have worked harder, been more active, tried more.)
I know how time works, with its patina of nostalgia, the odd thing it does to our memories in which the tantrums and the bone-deep exhaustion and the fear of doing it all wrong fade into the background, nearly forgotten, while the snuggles and the laughter and the wonder are heightened and missed.
It’s grace, this selective memory is. All grace. I’m sure of it. But it can lead to guilt, can cause you to wonder if you “cherished every moment,” if you appreciated what you had, if you made the most of this time. Knowing you as I do, I’m guessing you’re feeling all those things now. You’re looking at your full life, with kids who rarely want a snuggle, with teens who won’t dissolve into giggles if you chase them down the hall, and you’re thinking you let this time slip through your fingers. You’re thinking you should have observed more, should have loved more, should have cherished more. You’re thinking you should have used nap times better – for writing or reading or self-renewal – so that you were more present when your little ones were awake. If I know you at all, you’re looking back and thinking you should have been more. Period.
Which brings me to my point in writing here, now, today: stop it. Stop the guilt. Stop the remorse. Stop second-guessing your decisions. (I say this to you, future self, because it’s easier for me to state it baldly to you than it is for me to say it to myself. When I try to say this to myself, all the “buts” come in: but I should be writing more. But she’s only little for so short a time. But I lost my temper, or I got caught up in Facebook, or I found myself surfing random blogs when what she really needed was my time, my attention, my love. Those “buts” get in the way. I know you’ll have them, too, or you won’t really be me, but try to ignore them. For my sake, and yours.)
I paused in the kitchen just a few nights ago, my hands still holding the knife I was using to chop onion for dinner, and I watched her as she played. I marveled that she was mine to love, to guide, to raise. And that? That was one of those moments of cherishing – the ones those old ladies in the grocery store tell you not to miss. And you know what, future self? You did this in this busy time of early motherhood – you paused to watch, to absorb, to be present.
But there are other moments, too, the ones that aren’t so lovely, the ones where all I want is a bit of quiet, a snatch of rest, a hint of privacy. There’s life, too, the busyness of it. The bills that need paying and, despite all the adages and romantic notions that say otherwise, the housework that needs doing and the laundry that needs washing. There are the days when you’re tired and stressed and have had too much, where the part of you that is grateful and good at cherishing each moment gets buried under the reality of life, the reality of being human.
This crazy parenting journey isn’t mixed-up and jumbled in the way I wish it could be. I don’t get to experience toddler giggles interspersed with deep conversations. I don’t get to see and love who she is at two and seven and sixteen and twenty-five all at the same time. It comes linearly, painstakingly, one season, one phase at a time. The phase I am in now is one of incoherent anger because I offered her pasta for lunch and it is also one of bright discovery and wonder as she holds a worm for the first time. It is one of chase and peekaboo and snuggles on the couch and it is also one of hearing and singing and reading the same words over and over and over and over and over again. It is one of battles over cleaning up toys and of full-on tantrums at the grocery store and it is also one of sweet moments of grace and a little girl who believes her parents are the two most important people on earth.
So, future self, give yourself grace. Because you were here. You were present. You loved and you wrote and you cherished as much as you were able in this season. Believe me. I should know.
And for heaven’s sake, if you see a mom in the store with a young one, smile at her. Give her a nod or a word of encouragement, especially if her kid is not a model of good behavior. But whatever you do, no matter how tempted you are (and you might be tempted, as the nostalgia sweeps over you, as you begin to regret the moments you supposedly let slip by unnoticed), don’t tell her it goes by fast. Don’t tell her to cherish every moment.
You know better than that.
Your silly past self