Best Advice I Received
It was early summer and hot.
The seven of us (Jon, me and our five little kids) were strolling through Palm Springs with a truckload of appendages – toddler backpack (empty because said toddler was running ahead and climbing dangerous wrought iron fence posts), stroller (also empty of baby who was nestled instead in a sling), and the fifteen pound diaper bag, 10 pound purse, leaking water bottle and half-eaten snack foods necessary to all outings with five children… lounging in the empty stroller.
Of the older three kids, one scampered ahead of us and another cautioned him not to. This little brood ran circles around us or held onto the stroller handle to stay close. Jon and I actually had a conversation over the top of all this chaos. They were our chaos and we were oblivious to the fact that we looked like a dangerous amoeba about to take over the pathway.
As I worked my point and Jon gave supportive details, an older couple approached ahead of us. I felt that zing of awareness where I suddenly knew that we looked more like a mob than a family and worried that I couldn’t get the climbing, skipping, balancing on fence posts kids out of their way in time for them to avoid a collision, fall, and hip surgery.
“Kids, get down, I mean, move over, I mean, come here, I mean, grab hold of the stroller. Now!” I shouted in my public happy voice.
The couple smiled as a unit. Then the husband stopped as my kids slowed their enthusiasm and dutifully moved toward the stroller. “Are these all your kids?”
“Why, yes, they are.” (I quickly counted to be sure they were all, in fact, ours…wasn’t sure if we hadn’t picked up a few along the way!)
His wife said, “They’re beautiful. Love the red hair.” (We have two red heads that draw compliments.)
She went on, “We have six children. They’re all grown now. You have a beautiful family.”
Her husband then looked us in the eyes and stated with conviction, “When our children were young—those were the best days of our lives. Weren’t they, honey?”
“Oh yes. They’re adults now and we love to see them, but those early years were so special. Don’t miss them. These are the best years of your life.”
They smiled, stepped off the curb, walked around the brood of “adorable” children, and continued their walk. Time froze for a moment right there, however.
I scribbled their words on my heart.
I knew they were right. I knew that the early years of energy, enthusiasm for life, unity as a family were fleeting even when I was exhausted or overwhelmed. So I deliberately chose for myself, for our family, to enjoy the cacophony and chaos, not waiting for some later date when things would be “easier.” What if easier wasn’t as much fun, or as lively, or as intimate and affectionate? What if later was not a relief but a loss? When I felt those feelings of ‘wanting out’, I would remind myself that these years were the best (even if I couldn’t see it yet.) And it helped.
Yesterday Jon and I had breakfast with our college-student son. I hadn’t seen him in weeks. We chatted about the other four kids. He said, “Gosh, I almost feel like a parent. I’m enjoying watching them grow up.” So sweet.
Our 17 year old daughter is half-way through her senior year of high school. She’s gone more often than she’s home now, putting on the school play, hanging out with friends, studying, acting. The college housing documentation is arriving in the mail. Her time at home is rapidly coming to an end. Jacob (our middle child) has elected to go to full-time high school starting this fall (as a sophomore). He is active in band and wants to be at school to participate in the full range of band opportunities.
That means by September, I’ll only have two at home with me, both of whom are out of strollers, slings and backpacks. It’s a different time. There really are days now when I miss those early years, when we were all together all the time. I have loved being a full-time mother of five.
The experience has been far beyond anything I ever imagined.
Every walk in the hills, trip to the art museum, face paintings, reading aloud to all the kids sitting around me listening raptly, Legos strewn everywhere, a busy dinner table where everyone competes to tell jokes and stories, five kids raking leaves and jumping in them, soccer balls kicked, fireflies caught in jars, Shakespeare plays and camps, dancing and knitting and painting and writing, and finally, my favorite memory, tucking them all into their beds, knowing that all of our children were asleep under one roof, safe and at peace in cozy blankets, sure to wake up the next morning starving and ready to begin a new day at home with me.
It’s not like that anymore, “faster than the blink of an eye,” it seems to me now. But because I took that older couple’s advice to heart, I don’t have regrets. I don’t. I lived those years aware of how precious they were. Jon and I put good memories ahead of new hardwood floors, superior education and two incomes. We lived conscious that creating family closeness in the early years would pay dividends for the rest of our lives. When all else failed and our ideals crashed or we hit a road block, we put appreciating each other’s company ahead of everything else.
Your post brought tears to my eyes. I can relate, as I too have five children, ranging in age from 7 to 19. I remember those days of going everywhere with all five children. It was quite a production! My husband used to joke that we didn’t go on outings, we went on maneuvers.
Now, my oldest is in his second year of college, and doing well. My second son, 17, has been accepted to West Point, and we’re in the midst of all the forms and paperwork. This time next year, he’ll be gone, and I’ll be down to the younger three. The years go by so quickly! I’m so thankful to have enjoyed them. My only regret is that so often I was too busy to enjoy and appreciate them more. I wish that I had spent more time on the floor playing games, more time reading aloud, more time sipping tea and reading poetry. Those are the times I’ll look back and treasure.
I began our homeschooling journey with the desire to savor family life. As time has gone by, though, I have found myself losing that vision in the frenetic pace of school at home. Even with the kids at home all the time it can be difficult to stop the busyness and enjoy life together. What a great reminder! Thanks!
This brought tears to my eyes, must be an intended message for me to receive, since I just started haunting your website yesterday in search of a more natural way to teach writing…
Thanks for sharing your wisdom and experience – and I’m sure I will be only MORE grateful as time passes and my own children grow and I remember your words. I wonder if that older couple knew how many people they would reach when they said that to you – nice ripple effect, to be sure.
Cheers – Penny
Julie this was beautiful.
I have 4 kids only 5 years apart. Chaos hardly describes it sometimes. And yet I know you are right – that I will miss these days when we are all together. Thanks for the reminder.
I was very touched by this. It seems like I am always looking forward to the days when it’ll be “easier” as you said, and I could be missing the best years of my life. Your beautiful story has changed my perspective. Thank you!