The Need to Stop Time
“The days are long, but the years are short.”
“Enjoy every minute! It goes too fast.”
“Don’t you just wish they could stay this way FOREVER?”
Ah, the many clichés that we, our own parents and grocery-store busybodies, use to describe the phenomenon of watching our children grow up.
The push for milestones, the simultaneous adrenaline and ache deep in your chest as she takes her first step or races into karate class — confidently — without so much as a nod in your direction.
You yearn, some days, for bedtime — desperate for a long bath, a cup of tea, that good book. Yes, more clichés! Certain phrases and creature comforts earn that designation for good reason — because they’re tried and true.
Blinded by love
The beauty of writing this column in hindsight, just a few short years out of toddler parenting myself, is that I have a certain perspective — and the hot-pink T-shirt they give you when your child enters pre-K that reads, “I survived!”
What I know, from this side of the twos and threes and fours, is that we all mess up and our kids are better for it. I know we all think our toddlers are, actually, the cutest and smartest and most amazing.
Our next child is equal in cutes and smarts and awesomeness to our first — and, of course, WAY cooler than the neighbor’s kid, who totally picks his nose and eats it.
I also know that, though we champion our kids in this way — extremely biased and absolutely blinded by love — we’re also exhausted and crabby and dirty, grass-stained from the trenches of the backyard and jelly-smeared from … life.
But you probably already know all of this by now, savvy Toddler Parent.
What I can give you from my hotshot perspective of just out of the toddler years is this:
Every age is really cool
That feeling that you must stop time and keep things exactly as they are continues, leaving you in that ping pong between nostalgia and your desire to use the bathroom without an inquisitive, sticky, clingy audience.
Though leaving the toddler years behind is hard, 5 becomes the next best age. Is there anything better than a kindergartener? Six is fun. And 7 brings back the toothless grin.
Yes! You get to play tooth fairy! And build snowmen and write letters to Santa. You get to put away the stroller and walk with your child through the zoo, hand in hand, talking about the animals in a way that’s both meaningful and coherent.
There will always be a part of you that stops to hold the 2T jammies to your chest, after pulling them shyly from the keepsakes box you stumbled upon while digging out the Halloween decorations. You’ll long for these years and the baby years before that. Pregnancy too will be glorified as a time when you and your child shared blood and breath. Never mind the morning sickness.
The birth of nostalgia
With each passing year, however, comes the knowledge that the speed of time is what creates this nostalgia; and were you really given the power to grind life to a halt, you wouldn’t feel this way at all.
You would be saddled with an eternity of toddlerhood. With all of the picked flowers and bubble bath beards and first trips to the State Fair, a lifetime of ushering a little person through the years often tagged as “terrible” would be — if not complete torture — really damn hard. And nostalgia would not exist.
So, the next time you feel that oxytocin sucker punch known as The Need to Stop Time, settle for slowing it down.
Snuggle in, hunker down, unplug, observe and smell. Be OK with them crawling into bed with you for the 10th night in a row. Be OK, too, with the fact that it keeps getting better, for different reasons. You love them as much at each subsequent age, if not more.
I imagine this comforting thought, which I’ve so boldly presented, stops short in the teenage years, but I really don’t know.
I don’t have that perspective yet. Cue my own sucker punch.
Because I don’t have the power to stop time, I just close my eyes and let myself feel it — the bruised, breathless ache of parenthood.
Jen Wittes lives in St. Paul and is a mother of two. She’s helped many Twin Cities families in her work as a postpartum doula. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.