I watched my wobbly, big-eyed baby toddle towards me. Her arms outstretched, she fell into my arms. She handed me a board book and asked, “Read this?” I had dreamed about moments like this when I was pregnant, reading to my sweet baby. I couldn’t imagine anything better. I turned to my own mom and said, “She’s such a perfect one-year-old. I wish I could stop time and keep her like this forever.”
It’s a cliched refrain from parents, but on that day the ache in my chest was real. I wanted to wrap my hands around time and hold it, contain it to preserve my sweet baby exactly as she was. I wanted to keep her wonder of balloons, the excitement of a bathtub full of bubbles, and finding the mouse in Goodnight Moon. I couldn’t imagine anything better than her, exactly as she was.
My mom just smiled at me and said, “You can’t stop time. If she stayed like this, you would miss the great things she will do in the future.” A few days later she gave me the book If I could keep you little to remind me that good things were to come.
If I could keep you little,
I’d keep you close to me.
But then I’d miss you growing
into who you’re meant to be!
I read the book, thought it was sweet, but I didn’t really believe it. I couldn’t imagine who my baby could grow into. I couldn’t hold both the perfect present and the possibility of the future at the same time. If wishing could stop time, I would still be living in 2010.
It’s not 2010 anymore and that baby is counting down the days until her tenth birthday. Her legs have run a 5k, she recommends books to me, and raises her arms in victory when she finishes a cartwheel. She is just as delightful as she was as a baby, and I catch myself thinking again “she’s so perfect at this age…” But my first decade of mothering has taught me to end my thought there; I no longer want to keep her this age forever. Oh yes, I want to soak up this perfect, fleeting moment of my girl at nine years old, but I’m also looking ahead to what she’ll be like at ten and beyond.
I’m not just trying to be zen about accepting time; I’ve also learned how exciting it is to watch my children learn, grow and discover independence. She made brownies on her own last week and then told me about her plans to open her own bakery one day. I can hold the sweetness of the present moment in one hand and the magic of growth and development in the other. I can live with the tension between cherishing the moment and watching it pass by as the next one comes.
I lay next to my girl at bedtime recounting the stories of her day. I stroke her hair and she tells me of auditioning for the school play and a funny joke that her friend told. The only thing that I can imagine that is better than her, exactly as she is, is who she will become.