On Being a Mother and a Time Traveler


The problem with getting older is that we only have our youth to compare it to.

I look in my bathroom mirror, leaning gingerly over the dried toothpaste on my right and the puddle of what I hope is water on my left, and I blink mascara onto my lashes, stopping to study the fine lines and scars in magnified detail and to pluck some wandering eyebrow hairs from my chin. I lean back and notice my breasts are at half mast, and I see my stretch marks which always look like they made a poorly organized break for freedom but didn’t know which way to run and so have tripped over each other — splat! —  into a tangled, sprawling mess.

I typically don’t spend much brain power tearing my appearance down. That’s a serious time commitment, and, frankly, I’d rather waste my energy vying for a turn on the toilet. But sometimes, every once in a while, when I isolate things in the mirror, I sigh and grieve a little.

That’s when I get in my time machine and travel.

Not to my 20’s, like you might expect, to reminisce and remember.

No. I travel from my future, back in time, to right now.

I imagine myself as an old woman with all of her knowledge and secrets of the way this life went. The unexpected tragedies that shook our very foundations. The triumphs of enduring them and bearing witness to each other along the journey. The family who’s left. The abiding ache of loss echoed in the pain of my bones. Contentment and restlessness, my longtime companions.

I imagine queuing in the line at the time travel terminal, pausing to lean on my smooth, polished cane, showing my ticket to the agent at the door, and boarding the machine to travel to now.

I imagine arriving quietly, on an unseasonably hot spring day, and watching from the back gate of this house I used to own. This house where I built these memories. This house where these memories built me.

I imagine watching Young Me and our children in secret so I don’t disrupt the time continuum. I watch the popsicles dripping. The water spraying. The kids screaming in happiness and fury.

I imagine right now as a memory.

I look at my skin and deeper, and I think, How young! How lovely. Isn’t it strange that I used to see your flaws? 

And at Greg who isn’t really going grey yet, strong and tall.

I look at my parents sitting at the patio table, my dad laughing too loudly with his beer in a glass, never in the bottle, and mom with her sweet white wine. Mobile. Alive. Full of history and stories I didn’t tap while I had the chance, and I wonder why I squandered the time.

Then I watch Young Me wiping bottoms and tying laces and grabbing snacks and grabbing at sanity and yes-ing and no-ing all at once, and I remember, Oh. That’s why.

I look at my kids, and I try to memorize them. Each face. Each feature. Each gesture.

Oh, yes, I think, this is what you look like when you were six and running to me, hard head hitting my gut and stepping on my toes because you hug so recklessly. I remember the pattern of your freckles. 

I breathe the air and my young mama exhaustion; it’s sweeter, coming from the future. And I forgive myself my petty frustrations because it’s plain that I knew. I knew this was my kids’ only childhood, and I spent my time trying to give them a good one.


Clock image credit to Salvatore Vuono via freedigitalimages.net

ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
  1. I just discovered you through the Huffington Post article and began reading some of your recent posts. I love, love, love this. Thank you for reminding a busy mom that these days, that sometimes seem so unimportant with the repetitive mommy-tasks, truly are what matter and that they are fleeting. I am going to work on cherishing these days. Thank you for your inspiring words.

  2. I love reading your posts. You have such an eloquent way of describing things that I keep looking for the words to say myself!

  3. Thank you, all of you.


  4. I’ve NEVER commented on a blog that I have read. I just sneak in and read and think. This, however, was beautiful. It completely made me cry and really stop and think about all the craziness that is happening right now and made me breathe.

  5. Tearing. At work.

  6. Loved this post. I have been making a concerted effort to be what I call “pre-emptively nostalgic.” Meaning taking the time to look at my current life, my infant daughter, and try to appreciate in the moment the kinds of things I would otherwise only look back on someday in the future. If that makes any sense.

  7. Wow! How perceptive! And one of the blessings of grandchildren is the joy of watching them and thinking, “Oh, yes! I remember when my own kid did/said/discovered that.” And you look at your grown son and see that wonderful little boy, now a wonderful daddy to those amazingly wonderful grandchildren. Thank you for mothering them!

  8. Wow Beth, I’m completely blown away by this one! Some days I don’t feel grown up enough to be a mom….others, well, let’s just say I feel “older”…lol… and get in those places of self degradation. Thank you for this awesome perspective:-) Happy Mother of five Day to you:)

  9. Thank you for sharing this. I’m bookmarking it to read again when I need it and I will need it.

  10. Amazing! This articulates something I’ve felt for a long time. Made me cry. Thank you. 🙂

  11. That just made me cry. I don’t have kids yet, but right now I’m going my best to live in the now, as I enjoy just being married to my husband without the constant care and worry of children. Thank you!

  12. Beautiful! Thanks.

  13. Beautiful words. Thank you.

  14. My favorite post of yours.

  15. Wow, you got me with the pattern of your freckles.

  16. Holy wow. You said this so much better than I said the exact same thing in October, when my blog was less than a month old. I’d be honored if you checked it out. http://www.findingninee.com/hell-just-know-mommy/

  17. Wow. This was a long week, including one very difficult day. Thank you for this. What a great perspective. Someday today’s me, will indeed seem beautiful and energetic. Someday, what I deal with now will be a memory that I can look at an think “That wasn’t as bad nor as long as it felt at the time.” Someday I will wish for today again. So today, I will make the memory I want to have.

  18. Wow. Thank you for sharing this. What a beautiful way to keep some perspective during those busy, not-so-great-times. I will think of you and this message often, and then pause to appreciate every moment. I am grateful to have made it over to your site today.

  19. Beautiful. I’m going to try to remember this forever and ever.

  20. Oh, so lovely. What a gift you gave me just now. These words. Thank you!!!

  21. BZ

    1. It was the part about you Old Marine that brought the tears to my eyes. We get reminded often as parents of young children to cherish our children’s youth. But I have been reminded more recently not to take for granted my own parents’ relative youth and the gift of their presence with me here on earth as well. Beyond that, these words themselves are a gift Beth. I said Bravo. Your daddy says BZ (and yes I had to google it just like I have to google pilot speak when he includes it too ;). We agree–well done!

  22. Thank you for this.

    I began weeping as I read, curled up in bed with my 8 months old, trying to soothe her back to sleep. You made me forget about the laundry waiting to be folded, the dog’s empty water dish, and the nailpolish stain on the couch . You made me realize that the chance to snuggle my sweet babe was not an inconvenience, but a gift.

    You have me perspective.

  23. You’ve written posts that make me laugh, you’ve made me cry – but then there’s this one. You took my very own breath away – you breathed it in and then back out again with your very own words.

  24. I’ve often wished I could go back in time and tell past me why certain things have happened…because without them, x, y and z wouldn’t have happened. This totally hit home with me on a particularly challenging day with my young one. Thank you for a lovely piece.

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