It Really Does Go by Quickly

Kids_YoungerNoah, Johannah, Caitrin, Liam, and Jacob

When you are in the middle of the muddle (five kids under 9, all under foot), it doesn’t seem possible that you will one day emerge as a woman who will drive to a supermarket alone, buy herself a cafe latte, and stroll through the aisles putting juice and cookies in the cart—items never considered when seven people would devour them in fifteen minutes flat.

There are years where sleep is optional and comes in snatches between bed-wettings and breast feeding, uncomfortable belly bumps and night terrors. Sometimes insomnia strikes on the one night everyone sleeps through. Ah the cruelty. Ah the endless sleeplessness.

You live with an enormous amount of pressure to make it all work:

  • The stuffed bedrooms of two and three children sharing a space not big enough for one let alone two or three
  • The disarray of shoes with matches and mismatches and no time to sort out if you have pairs or not
  • The endless trade of strep throat cultures from toothbrush to toothbrush all winter long
  • The hotel-stays with children sprawled all over the floor to save precious dollars
  • The attempt to be at all soccer, lacrosse, baseball, and basketball games for multiple children with one car and a husband working on Saturday mornings
  • All ballet, band, Shakespeare, theater, vintage dance, and guard rehearsals and performances, sometimes on the same nights
  • All art and science fairs
  • All co-op and homeschool support group meetings (while finding childcare)
  • Saving money from grocery budgets or making trades for tutoring or online classes
  • Working part time with a newborn in your arms
  • Being so sick yet homeschooling anyway
  • Moving across the country in the middle of the school year and praying your children won’t be behind at the end of it
  • Unknotting tangled hair through tears
  • Giving haircuts to boys without any training
  • Living with a kitchen the size of a postage stamp
  • Never updating furniture, hairstyles, or wardrobes for years at a time…

You do it with energy and optimism (most of the time), right in the middle of your marital challenges, work pressures, and postpartum depression.

Your kids keep growing up despite your best and worst efforts.

Suddenly, one of them…goes! Right out the door and you’re packing his room into cardboard boxes…and the fact that you can see the floor for the first time in four years is cold comfort, while you hug this man-child and worry about him in new ways and he leaves, unaware of the big hole he leaves behind in the fabric of this family.

Then the next one: bam! She picks her duvet and laptop covers, drives 100 miles, and never returns…not really ever in the same way.

At the same rate they were born, they leave. Every two years like clockwork—while you try to stay present to the ones still home, still needing all that devoted attention. But a piece of you moves out each time the next one packs a box and finds a new bed. You suffer a little even as you gain old “pre-children” liberties long forgotten.

One day, when you least expect it (only you have expected it for 20+ years), you look up and know (really know) that you are at the end of this long journey called “stay-at-home parenting.” It happens when the last one is still at home, but receives her acceptance to college. It happens when your first one graduates from college. It happens when one of your children marries. It happens whether you want it to or not.

There’s no turning back the clock and all the hard things (the years that felt unending and tiring and overwhelming and difficult) are finished. Just. Like. That. What remains is this air-from-your-lungs-stealing awareness that you can never go back.

But oh how the good memories take over! Like a flood! Suddenly it’s as though your children were the most amazing people ever…because they were (and are), all along. You knew it! That’s why you stayed home with them. Those memories are warm comfort. They are the ones that matter. The long years seem incredibly brief in that light. Part of you wants those years back (oh the insanity!).

When you get to the end of your “small children under foot rope,” hold on. Do the best you can in that moment and remind yourself that there will be a day you will wish yourself back to this very moment, missing the immediacy of your family and their needs. The end will come suddenly, with finality. Then you will know what all these little moments really mean. They are the moments of your life—what you grew up to be and do (among other things, but maybe none so important as this thing—this ‘loving your children’ thing). Your life, written in your all-day-long shared experiences with your children. How lucky we are!

I wish you strength for the journey so you will know the joy of the memories in days ahead.

I’m nearly to the end of my journey. How I’ve loved it.

Kids OlderCelebrating Liam’s high school graduation

14 Responses to “It Really Does Go by Quickly”

  1. Alexis says:

    So very beautiful! Thank you!

  2. Brandie says:

    Thanks for this…it gives me hope. I am in the middle of it with ages 11,9,7,5 and 2 🙂

  3. Emelie says:

    I only have two, 18 mo apart, (14 & 12yo) but I’m starting to feel it too…beautifully written.

  4. My two are 22 months apart and it doesn’t matter how many or how close, the end of their living at home means so many new beginnings for everyone…love this!

  5. Katie says:

    I have four–12, 10, 8, 6. This brought tears to my eyes. I’ll be printing it out and taping it to the fridge so I can read it when I’m in a “what the hell was I thinking” mood. 🙂

  6. April says:

    My, it does go by quickly, my two are 18 and 17. My daughter graduated last year and my son will graduate next year. I have been a stay at home wife and mom for the last 20 years, and I am working hard to prepare my self for my next phase of life. This was a wonderful post to read!!

  7. stephinie says:

    oh i hear you…..
    my oldest is graduating from high school this year. my youngest is seven. the sea is changing. more and more bits and pieces find me all alone here and there. which, as you know, is rather strange. it’s so hard. watching them figure things out and become their very own person. often times biting my tongue and watching and hoping.
    anyhow… i’ll be sharing a link to in my space…. this is too good not to pass on.

  8. Stephen Gould says:

    Thanks for sharing. My daughter, Charity Berwick, recommended this for us. We also enjoyed the journey of raising five home schooled children. Charity was the first to go and now has four of her own. Now we get calls of desperation: Calls where one of the children is wondering if home schooling is really her calling, even as her two year old is writing and reading words; calls about one of the grandchildren running a fever; calls about broken hearts; calls about exciting new happenings; well, I am sure you are familiar with all of this. Every call brings back memories too. Those warm, wonderful memories of four children crowding my lap with a fifth cuddled in close, of nap piles (children who have crawled on your chest, legs, arms and head just to get a little more time with elusive Dad while he was home), of spontaneous plays acting out some historical event, of the little girl who played so hard on the fourth of July that she fell asleep on the toilet and never heard us as we frantically searched the house and neighborhood for her. Yes, it does go by in a blink, but when the grandchildren come you do get a little bit more of it all over again.

  9. Julie Bogart says:

    Thank you Stephen for such lovely reflections on the next phase of the journey! I’m so looking forward to it. Well written, too.

    🙂 Julie

  10. karin-ida says:

    This is exactly what I am going thru right now, thank you for sharing!
    One in Sweden at Uni, one on a six month journey in South America, and thank God, one still at home three more years to go, my kids are21, 19, and 15 respectively and we live in Austria, though we are native Swedes!

  11. Emily says:

    I really do need these reminders, as I am in the midst of the early childhood, yet also feel these golden years slipping away as my oldest is 10. One question I have is how can I prevent this feeling of burnout in the moment? How to best draw boundaries? In exhaustion, I quickly go through the nightly routine, one last hug, one last kiss, one more hug where I’m trapped and I have to wriggle free, barking no more bathroom visits, no more yelling “Mama” in louder than outside voice whispers. I feel the guilt because the night isn’t welcomed peacefully…and I know that I am one moment closer to the end…. how do i keep the balance?

  12. Julie Bogart says:

    Try to be gentle with yourself. Some of that impatience is part of the journey and your kids will forget it as easily as you do. If you are kind in a general way, and if you have a few bedtime routines that you perform once a month or so, weirdly, that is what they will remember. They remember singular events as though annual traditions! It’s amazing how much children generalize the good.

    My kids think I sang lullabies to them every night. I did not. I sang them, for sure. But some nights I was like you—exhausted, trying to get the door closed without one more drink of water or hug.

    Be kind to yourself. Recognize your limits. You matter too. If the overall context of home is joy and peace and people-honoring, THAT’s what they will remember best.

  13. helene says:

    I came here via Ginny in one of her FB posts. It made me cry too… Our oldest is in the process of choosing which University to go to next year. So close to the first one leaving the nest. I know it’s good, but I dread the pain, the heartache. It terrifies me. I will have to deal with the younger ones missing him on top of me missing him, and I am not good with this.
    What do you tell them? That you hurt too? That it is good for him? That they will leave too one day? You end up looking like the bad guy trying to wrap up a horrible gift in pretty paper.
    I guess I am not ready yet 🙂

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