Cherish these precious moments. They grow up so fast.
Every parent has heard this advice. Older parents have probably given it. I am only now beginning to understand it.
In fact, I used to really dislike this advice— and not just when I became a mother. I disliked it a long time ago when I heard people giving this advice to my parents. It made me sad when I felt like it made other people sad that I was growing up. I felt trapped by the inevitable. Some people dread turning forty. I dreaded turning thirteen.
The apparent sadness surrounding growing up bothered me so much that I eventually just tried my best to ignore it or explain it away. Maybe parents were sad because their particular kids turned out differently than they expected. Or they weren’t as close to them anymore. There just couldn’t be something inherently sad about growing up. That just didn’t seem fair or right. And if there is something inherently sad about it, how do you deal with that? How does every passing second not feel sort of tragic?
The other night my four-year-old had a nightmare. So as I sat and rocked him I looked down at his sleeping face and noticed how mature it was. His long, lanky legs dangled over mine— baby fat all gone— too big to be in any sort of comfortable position for rocking. In the morning we would talk about his nightmare and why nightmares exist, why God allows them, why there’s evil in the world. Baby Joseph is officially Boy Joseph. I’ll never rock Baby Joseph again.
And now I can’t deny it. That feels like a loss. I love Boy Joseph even more than I loved Baby Joseph. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have wanted to rock Baby Joseph again just one more time.
But what if it’s not really a loss? What if it’s more like a blindness? Maybe Baby Joseph isn’t gone; maybe he’s just hiding beneath Boy Joseph. Maybe growing up is less about shedding an old skin and more about acquiring layers— layer upon layer— and at the very core of all of us is that needy, helpless infant. Maybe baby pictures are not lifeless memories, but rather, windows into a personhood unrestrained and undivided. Maybe at the end of time, we’ll see each other in completeness and smile, “ahh there he is at fifteen. There he is at thirty-five. And there he is at two and a half.”
So how do we break through our blindness? How do we learn to see all the many layers?
I think people are on to something when they recommend “cherishing the moment.” But cherishing the moment is not about frantically snapping photos or worrying ourselves with the moment’s passing. Cherishing the moment is not the same as clinging to it. It’s about allowing ourselves the necessary space for moments of clarity. It’s about believing in the core of a person and guarding, protecting and defending that core. It’s about watching, listening, and appreciating. Most of the time, Boy Joseph sounds like a four-year-old. Sometimes he kind of sounds like a sixteen-year-old. Surprisingly often, he sounds like a seventy-year-old. And every now and then, he still sounds like a baby. But that’s actually true for my husband, too. And all of my loved ones. If I listen closely enough, I’ll sometimes hear the infant’s cry. I’ll hear the toddler’s giggle. I’ll see the child’s innocence. And in those moments, I’ll remember with joy how blind I am— and how all truly good things that have seemingly passed will be revisited. In those moments, all moments string together. I realize how time is really a facade, age an irrelevant number in the scope of eternity. And how all love I’ve ever known has a source, summit, and destination.
So I don’t need to cling sentimentally to the past, as if my baby is somehow better than my boy (what I always thought people meant with their advice.) But neither should I ignore the twinge of sadness that makes me pause and recollect. I don’t need to mourn a loss, but I can mourn my blindness. I can feel sadness at the reality of time and death, and how time and death blur our ability to see things and people in their completeness. I can feel a little sadness at growing up– as long as that sadness doesn’t overwhelm the greater joy in front of me and the greater joy to come.