Welcome to our Monday guest post series on Parenting and Imperfection.
Today’s post is brought to us by my friend, Melanie Springer Mock. I love Melanie for a lot of sensible reasons; she’s smart, she’s witty, she’s a fellow adoptive mom who gets it, and she’s willing to reveal her insecurities because she recognizes that telling the truth somehow sets us all free. But I find Melanie particularly endearing because, even though she’s an accomplished author who teaches university-level writing and enjoys quality literature, she’s doesn’t ever make me feel like a faker or a dummy, even though I’m often both. The older I get, the more I believe that’s one of the best endorsements of friendship out there.
They Do Grow Up Too Fast: Carpe Diem as Lament
by Melanie Springer Mock
This morning, I walked my son to school, his arms crossed, his bottom lipped shoved out just to let me know—if I hadn’t figured as much already—that he was mad. About important things, mind you: shortly before leaving for school, Samuel had discovered the car parked in the driveway, making it impossible for him to play soccer against the garage door. And minutes before that, his brother had taped a collage of baseball stickers on their shared bedroom door, an entirely egregious act because Samuel did not like baseball. Not right then, at least.
While his oblivious brother skipped ahead (this was not his day for crossed arms and pouty lips), I matched my younger son’s strides, trying to convince him anger would not win the day, and that the offenses against him were relatively minor. Looking over at his arms, tight across his chest, I recalled the many pictures of me in the fifth grade, assuming the same posture, letting Kodak and the world beyond know I was pissed: at my mom, my siblings, bad karma, who knows what.
Obviously, being an eleven-year-old on the cusp of middle school and Big Feelings and adolescence is hard work. Being the parent of an eleven-year-old (two, actually) might be harder work still. Not because of the inexplicable anger, the petty sibling fights over insane minutia, the ad nauseum poop jokes, but because parents of fifth graders recognize the ephemeral nature of elementary school, the swift passing of music programs and book fairs and reading logs, all vanishing into thin air. Or middle school, which is essentially the same thing.
Over the last few months, I’ve read several confessional pieces from parents of young children, exasperated by well-meaning strangers who offer up advice about how time quickly passes. To tell new parents that time passes quickly is apparently thoughtless and insensitive, akin to putting baseball sticker collages on bedroom doors or parking in one’s own driveway.
Two blog posts in particular went viral, both essentially about well-meaning strangers and their ill-timed comments regarding time. Links to the posts littered my social networking feeds, passed from one parent to parent because the writers’ sentiments were widely embraced. Steve Wiens, blogging at The Actual Pastor, expressed barely sublimated rage against those “time passes quickly” commenters, saying he would like to “secretly want to hold those people under water. Just for a minute or so. Just until they panic a little.” And Momastery’s Glennon Melton, writing on the Huffington Post, wanted to tell those conveying “enjoy the moment” sentiments to shove it, in the nicest way possible.
While I can empathize with that the frustration, and know they are writing from a place of hyperbolic humor, I want to offer them—and those weary young parents to whom they are writing—a different perspective. Now almost a decade removed from toddler-raising tedium, I now see these “they grow up so quickly!” comments not as advice, but as lament. The interlocutor isn’t necessarily chastising the frazzled mom, imploring her to stop growling at her kids and to celebrate the moment. Instead, she’s mourning what has passed in her own life, and is passing still.
After all, most parents remember well the stultifying boredom of raising toddlers: Those long mornings, stretched to infinity, with only a trip to the grocery store a welcomed distraction. The weariness of strapping kids into car seats, taking them out, strapping them in. The despair of a 30-minute television program’s ending, signaling the conclusion of your own rest as well.
I don’t know that I want to experience that season again (God save me from ever having to watch one more Dragon Tales episode), though its swift passing is a reminder to me that this next season—and the season after that, too—will also go quickly. Soon, my boys will graduate from high school and be set off into the world without me—and hopefully, without too many tattoos or piercings.
Telling a young parent “it all goes so quickly” is my own song of mourning, a requiem to those sweet nights, rocking my sons to sleep; and holding them on a hip, their arms around my neck; and teaching them to ride bikes, their small legs pumping in fear; and helping them learn simple fractions, knowing their math homework will soon be too hard for me.
Another movement of this requiem is now being written, because in less than a week, I will be done walking them through the city park to Dundee Elementary, their arms crossed fiercely—or, on occasions, their steps light, the poop jokes flowing freely. With summer break, my sons’ time at our neighborhood school will be finished. Next year, they will attend a middle school in a nearby town, riding a bus that arrives way too early and carries them too far away.
Enjoy this season, a friend told me recently, her youngest son having graduated high school. It all goes so fast. I knew exactly what she meant. Her comment was not an indictment of me, my harried parenting, or my inability to enjoy the quiddity of the inane, when one son hits another over nothing much. It was lament that this part of her life—the part of mothering in the moment—was now over.
So I’m steeling myself for whatever comes next, because I know from my own childhood experience that middle school can be hell on parents. But I’m reminding myself, too, that it all does go fast, and that even the most ridiculous times—a fifth grader’s pout over a car in the driveway, for example—will someday be part of my lament, a song to a season’s quick passing and to children, growing into adults before our very eyes.
Melanie Springer Mock is a Professor of English at George Fox University, Newberg, Oregon. She is mother to two ten-year-old boys, stepmom to two adults, and grandma to one (though she is really too young for such a role). Her most recent book is Just Moms: Conveying Justice in an Unjust World, published in 2011. She blogs about images of women embedded in evangelical popular culture at Ain’t I a Woman? and blogs for Christian Feminism Today at FemFaith.
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