I followed a link from someone's Facebook feed (I can't remember whose now!) to this article this morning, and it's been driving me crazy ever since. She makes some important, true points, especially about it being OK to tell the truth about motherhood not always being easy. We all need to be gentle with each other and take care of instead of criticizing each other.
But as the "be grateful for this time" isn't a criticism, it also triggered my "yeah, but" reflex.
I know it's A Thing. I did it once and was swiftly rebuked and I haven't done it again. It's just not cool, as the mom of teenagers (when did I get this old?), to tell a mom of young kids that she should be grateful for her experiences, or that she should savor the time she has with her little kids, even when she's covered in poop and as thoroughly exhausted as she could ever imagine being. Who would be grateful for those days when your kids are little, and you feel like all you do is change diapers and nurse the baby while you're playing with Fisher Price toys with the toddler and the preschooler is drawing flowers on the kitchen wall with metallic Sharpies? When there are no adults around except you, and no possibilities of a break, and yes, even when you do get to bed there's often a little body already there, one who takes up an impossible amount of space for all its seeming tininess. When days are long and downright boring sometimes, and if you have to have one more tea party where you sip imaginary tea and eat imaginary cookies you might just lose your marbles.
And then some stupid old mother, with all of her kids at school all day, tells you you should be grateful? Have all of the old mothers forgotten just how hard it is, taking care of a bunch of little ones? Have their memories of tinies been filtered of the hard, exhausting, boring, repetitive details, leaving only the blissful ones, when the baby is clean and sleeping, and the top of her downy little head is the softest and most heavenly thing imaginable?
Of course we didn't forget.
Because here's a truth: being a mother is always hard. We didn't forget how hard those days were. We just know that harder things are coming. Not the early school years—those, in general, are pretty good. I'm talking about the universal truth you don't learn until it's too late: you didn't have a baby. You just had a premature teenager.
Changing diapers all day long is hard. Never feeling like you can leave that nursing baby who refuses to take a bottle is hard. Mothering little ones is hard, hard work. But I promise: you meet an entirely new kind of hard when you start raising a teenager. Because then it's not just poop. It's shit. The difficult parts of raising teenagers are life changing. If they don't keep their grades up their chance at a scholarship will be ruined. If they don't figure out why their best friend suddenly hates them, they'll feel like a social pariah. If they don't dress right, have the right hair or make-up or clothes or car or shoes or cell phone or ___________ (insert whatever is currently popular) they feel like freaks. There is heartache and backstabbing and pissy teachers and overwhelming amounts of homework, the Amazonian piranha nightmare that is junior high and high school. Plus acne and boobs and armpit hair and what the hell is my body doing.
As a mother of teenagers, you still don't get any sleep. Sure, no one crawls into bed with you anymore. And yeah, they sleep through the night. Sort of—if you count staying up till 1:45 a.m. finishing a homework project and then getting up at 5:00 because it takes time to look this good as "sleeping through the night." But you don't, because of worrying. And there are a million different worries. Are they smoking pot in secret? Are they having sex with their girl/boyfriends? Are they looking at porn despite all your best filtering efforts? Are they drinkers or bulimics or cutters, are they depressed or manic or just normal adolescents? Is their social life proof you raised a Mean Girl? Is the _____ sports team too much or not enough? How will their current choices help them in the future that's rapidly smacking them in the face?
When toddlers make a mistake, you have to reach for some paper towels or the vacuum or sometimes even the phone to call the doctor. When teenagers make a mistake it changes their lives.
And those are just the things you worry about. There's also the way you look at them and your heart still, fifteen years later, does that fluttery thing when you can't believe that such a person as this amazing creature exists, and you helped to create him—and then he looks at you with the deepest contempt, or annoyance, or superiority. When every question is answered with a half-grunt, or a shoulder shrug, or a body language that is screaming silent epithets at you. Or you finally have to realize that the little girl who used to adore drinking imaginary tea with you would rather have her fingernails pulled off—her hair shorn—her cell phone taken away than spend any actual, real time with you. (Unless the mall is involved, but then only because you have the credit card.)
And that is why, dear young moms, we old moms tell you to be grateful. To savor. It's because sometimes we'd like to trade our hard for yours. It's because you cannot know until it happens: the little days don't last forever. That is both a blessing and a devastation. Yes, it is nice to be on the other side, the diaper-bag-free, everyone-is-potty-trained-and-can-feed-their-own-damn-selves side. But it isn't easier. It's just hard in a different way.
It's not that we old moms think you young moms shouldn't feel what you feel. The hard parts are as real as the happy parts. It's not monstrous to feel what you feel. We just want you to see that the hard parts aren't the only parts. And sure: probably no one would ever tell the mom of teenagers to savor these days. To be grateful for them. To be happy that you're so mad at your kid you just threw a block of cheese at him. Except, you know...I tell myself that. Because for all of the hard things, there are still blissful moments. Like when you're driving down the road and a song comes on that you both love (which is a miracle in itself!) and you both sing along, loudly and badly, but with laughter. Or when your teenage son gets a glint in his eye and then tells you a joke that is maybe slightly off-color but not too much. Or when you find the right bit of advice to give your teenage daughter, and she tries it and it works and then she says thank you. When you find the perfect prom dress or the girl says yes to a date. When you see them fail but keep trying, when you see them succeed, when you see them begin to stride out into the world, wearing the identity you helped to shape—those are the best savoring moments.
But I also try to savor the hard times. Or perhaps savor is too strong a word. Just not lose myself in the utter misery of them, because there is also another worse thing: they leave. You think you will always have them with you (sometimes you think you will never be free of them) but you won't. You will always be the mother of your children but you won't always be actively mothering them. They grow and grow and grow, and then they are grown up. And they leave. This time, with whatever hardness it holds, is always worth savoring. It is always worth being grateful for. Because it will always, always pass by.
The suggestion of old mothers to young mothers that they savor, that they know they are blessed and lucky even in the hard moments, doesn't come from a place of condescension. It isn't because we've forgotten. It's not because we're know-it-all jerks who want to be the boss of you. It's not because we're unstable weirdos who want to cuddle our teenagers. (They're pretty smelly.) It's just because we're farther into this journey of motherhood and we know just how quickly the time passes, and how swiftly the end comes, and because we want you to be able to look back and know you felt, thoroughly and utterly felt, the moments you were given.
It's because we want that for ourselves, too. And because sometimes, eventually, it will be too late, and the moment—good, hard, blissful, boring, mundane, extraordinary—will be gone.