Children and the passing of time

15 February 2021

If you are a parent, or have a child in your life you really love, how often do you mourn the passing of time?

Is it rarely? Occasionally? Daily? Hourly? I ask how often, not if, because anyone who has fallen in love with a child has had at least a fleeting twinge of sadness over the thievery of time. Personally, I try not to dwell on it, as the realist in me thinks of it as unproductive, but sometimes it will smack me in the face out of nowhere, like it did on Friday when I read this reader comment on Cup of Jo:

“My three kids are 22, 19 and 16, and if I had one wish it would be for the doorbell to ring and for it to be their little selves standing there, at any given age along the way, with overnight bags packed to spend a day or two with all of us. To relive those moments (to scoop up those little faces that I miss!)… well, just thinking about it makes me laugh and get teary every time.”

This comment comes to us courtesy of a reader named Erika, and Erika, I have to say you are severely underselling the emotional impact this little thought experiment can have on an unsuspecting parent, just moseying along through her Friday blog catch-up. When I initially read it, I tiptoed on by, sensing its power but not letting myself linger. It kept popping back into my mind over the next few days, though (more on that below), and by the time I finally relayed the image to John, I was doing it through copiously-flowing tears.

One-week-old baby June in a ridiculously-oversized onesie, tucked under John’s arm.

If you have kids, please – just stop and think about it for a minute. Ten or fifteen years from now, my precious five- or two-year-old climbing up my front steps, ringing the doorbell, and me opening the door to see them standing on the mat, duffel over their shoulder, ready to spend a day or two with John and me? Their little shining face, their favorite outfit?

Picture ushering them in, squeezing them in the biggest hug, sitting them down on the sofa or at the kitchen table and just staring at them with the goofiest smile on your face. Playing their favorite games, eating their favorite foods, doing whatever they want to do with you for as long as they’ll let you. Likely staring at them some more after they fall asleep.

It is quite literally too much for the heart to handle, hence the overflow of tears. Honestly, I sincerely apologize for putting you in a place of such emotion on a Monday morning.

…But now that I have, let’s backtrack for a bit. Because there’s a reason I don’t tend to dwell on these sorts of thoughts. Sure, that’s exactly what I’d do in this alternate-universe scenario. But in real life, I cannot set aside, well, real life to stare at my child 24/7. There are bills to be paid and dishes to be done and even “selfish” things like blogs to be read. Which is why these thoughts often leave me frustrated and dismissive, because what do we DO with them?!

We can’t use them to be lenient parents, catering to our children’s every whim.

We can’t use them to neglect our responsibilities or our own lives, where, coincidentally, time also keeps marching on.

We can’t use them to live in misery, hating each second that passes.

We can’t use them to dread milestone moments, wishing time would just stop.

Head on the pillow, turning all of this over and over one night this weekend (racking my brain for how I could use this emotional outburst productively), I had an idea, and here it is: Fridays are going to be takeout nights for the foreseeable future. Once I pick up the kiddos from school, I will deliberately set aside cooking, dishes, and all other feasible grown-up concerns in favor of doing whatever they want to do with me for as long as they want to, and staring into their faces.

Time is a thief, stealing past versions of ourselves, days, years, millions of happy moments, but time is a generous giver, too. It gives us those years together and the opportunity to use them wisely with every version of our precious people along the way. If nothing else, I hope today’s post sparks a thought of what you might tweak in your own life to do this even more beautifully than you already are.

P.S. Erika concluded her comment by adding that she hopes this is what being a grandparent is like. I think it might be, which is a comforting thought.

P.P.S. I hope you had a happy Valentine’s Day. I’m sad I don’t have a single photo to remember ours by, but it just felt so full of love. It was a really great day.

P.P.P.S. More thoughts on time here, here, and here. I just can’t quit it.

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February 15, 2021 2:42 pm

Well this wrecked me, heart and soul. Time to start using time more wisely.

February 15, 2021 3:52 pm

Thank you for sharing this, as I sit sobbing at my computer wrecked by the thought of my little people as they are today coming back to visit me 2 or 5 or 10 years from now. In a year that’s been so challenging to feel like I’m making the most of anything–time with my kids, with my husband, productively at work, for myself–this reminds me that the important thing is to do the best I can at loving my people when they’re right in front of me. This thought will make me calmer, more patient, and more compassionate, I am sure of it. While I have often felt sadness about the quick passage of time, something that lessens the blow is how surprising and fun each stage has been. Sure, I miss newborn cuddles so much. But watching my kids learn new things, communicate, develop their own likes and dislikes, and just be so wonderful to be around has made their aging delightful.

February 15, 2021 9:10 pm

Beautiful. I love all of your words and the heart behind them. Psalm 90:12 through and through. Thank you for writing this.

February 15, 2021 9:45 pm

I only read that reader comment today actually, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it either! I don’t say things like “time flies” or “where did the time go” or phrases like that often. Partially, because it doesn’t usually feel to me like time flies quite honestly (with a few exeptions, of course). I specifically remember my daughter’s first birthday and people said things like: “Isn’t it crazy that she’s one already?” or “Didn’t that year just fly by?” And people were generally surprised when I answered something like: “Actually, no. This has pretty much been the longest year of my life.” And I didn’t mean that in a bad way or anything. But that first year of life is just so FULL of everything. Full of emotions, worries, milestones, love and change. In their first year they go from tiny helpless and adorable newborn to smiles and rolling to crawling and maybe even walking and growing teeth and hair. In one year.
That first birthday is when I decided to not go with those phrases and not let time fly. Because it doesn’t. It’s what we make of it. At least to a certain extent.
I have to say that I do have a feeling that the older the kids get, the more I catch myself wanting to push that pause button, soaking up those full weight snuggles on the couch knowing that those days are numbered. My daughter is seven now and every once in while it smacks me in the face, like you mentioned yourself, and I see her in chucks and jeans getting a glimpse of what she’ll look like ten years from now and that’s when I’ll stare at them a little longer than usual when they are asleep :-)
Okay, now I almost wrote an entire post about it, too. I really just wanted to say: Thanks for putting words to a lot of my thoughts since I read that comment earlier. And thanks for the reminder about making time to be present and intentional while those precious kiddos love to spend their time with us!

February 16, 2021 7:15 am

I always appreciate your thoughts on time. It has changed my life. I try to live everyday appreciating the wonderful time I have been given. It’s the unexpected lasts that really get to me.

February 16, 2021 2:50 pm
Reply to  Victoria

“The unexpected lasts”! Oh, my. Thank you for this–one more phrase to add to the reminders that help me soak up each moment with my little ones.

February 16, 2021 2:48 pm

I started crying reading CoJ’s post to my husband as well. As a parent who struggles sometimes with patience, I’m using this also to remind myself to follow some more advice I read on Cup of Jo: “Take their worries and their joys seriously.”
Such wise words.

February 16, 2021 3:36 pm

I don’t know… I think I would rather enjoy pouring my 21 year-old a glass of wine at dinner and asking about his day at work or college or wherever he is when he comes to visit me. And I am interested especially in finding out what he likes to do and wear and what is his hair like?! Even more, who is his significant other and what are they like? These are the thoughts that keep me occupied when reality is overwhelming and there is a tantrum boiling…
One day a few years ago my son was being especially adorable and I was especially exhausted from nursing around-the-clock. I thought to myself, “I wish I could bottle this moment up and take it out later, when I am less tired and can appreciate it more.” And here I am, remembering that moment and it is still beautiful. I suppose we can do this sort of thing forevermore as long as we are present enough to note the moments, able to save them for later.

February 16, 2021 4:38 pm

Cue the feels. Overemphasized by the fact that we will be moving states in a few months and the home we brought our babies home to and have raised them in (3.5 & 1.5) will no longer be ours (sobs).
What your post sparked for me is, those sweet, wonderful moments are easy to cherish. What I’d love to do is go back to those phases when things were hard, when my child was teaching me things (like how to deal with throwing food on the floor and opening every drawer while making dinner and carseat battles) and soak in who they were then. When I was distracted by my frustrations with my child and having trouble seeing them. This has gotten easier with my second child, seeing it all as a phase and not being weighed down in the moment or judging my parenting “value” at those times, but I’d love to go back and observe those phases.
What a joy and challenge they are, and a privilege we have to raise them. THANK YOU for that reminder!!

February 17, 2021 8:20 am

I read that post on Cup of Jo too. Well, I skimmed through it because like you, I knew the power it held. My 4 month old daughter has already decided that on some nights she doesn’t need to be rocked to sleep. Crazy to think that two months ago I couldn’t wait for the day when she didn’t need to be rocked for what felt like an hour just to get her down. Now sometimes I find myself ALMOST wishing I could go back to that time.

February 17, 2021 11:13 am

Be open to the times on take-out Friday when what they choose is to make dinner with you…

February 17, 2021 4:30 pm

I love this. I love you. I love this blessing of life. We are all so lucky.