Last week I saw a woman walking through the grocery store – dragging her tired two year old behind her. He was protesting, she was insisting. It was late. He started crying. Momma lost her patience and picked him up scolding him for his meltdown. Her cheeks were flushed, she was embarrassed. He screamed and arched his back, begging to be put back down. Her toddler acting up in isle 3 at 9:00 at night felt like a clear reflection of her expertise as a mother.
The voice in my head kept saying, “Just take him home. Wrap him up in his favorite blankie, snuggle him till he falls asleep in your arms. A heavy, sweaty, snotty nosed, dirty pile of heaven.” I didn’t say anything. I just smiled and sent her all the patience I had to spare.
I remember so clearly, being her. I remember dragging the boys through Kroger, the task of grocery shopping sucking the life out of me. I wish I would have known then what I know now.
I wish I would have known that eventually I could send them to the store for me, that when I was out of milk or eggs or bread I could hand Coop a twenty and he would go himself! Of course I knew, I just couldn’t feel it then.
I wish I would have known that he would grow out of fighting sleep – and ask to take naps, sleep till noon (or longer if I let him!), that he would someday say “I’m tired, I’m going to bed.”!
I wish I would have known how much I would miss the smell of his dirty, sweaty head after he had played outside in the sunshine. Or how I would miss the way he tackled when he hugged me, wrapping me in little boy hands and arms and skinned knees – so big and vibrant and exposed was his love for me. I wish I would have known how I would miss kissing his owies – but even more I would miss the power of my hug to make everything right in his world. I wish I would have known I would miss the certainty of decisions when he was little – “No. You can not put your finger in the light socket … No. you can not ride your bike in the street … “.
I wish I would have known how much being a momma hurt. Not that I would have changed it, because certainly I wouldn’t, and maybe knowing would have made no difference, but there’s a part of me that wishes I had known. It snuck up on me, it surprised me.
The more I thought about what I wished I would have known then – the more I realized I am in the same situation, now. I think so often now – and write about it too 😉 – what life will look like when they are all gone. Parenting teenagers is so bittersweet – the road behind you looks longer than what you have ahead. Someday I will look back on parenting teenagers and say “I wish I would have known …” What will that list look like? What will I learn? What will I come to laugh about the same way I smile when I think of grocery trips with three boys under the age of 5?
I suspect it would look something like this:
I wish I would have known – even though I was warned – that our children will disappoint us. They make choices we don’t agree with, they fight boundaries in ways we don’t approve of. I wish I would have known how frightening that is, how unsettling and worrisome it becomes. I hope I have learned that without those disappointments, our kids don’t grow. They don’t learn, they don’t transform from little boys with infinite dreams to men who have a solid plan, a life goal.
I wish I would have known how hard it is to watch my sons suffer. Suffer with consequences of their choices. To suffer with the punishment we bestow, to suffer with the natural consequence of their own actions. It wasn’t so bad putting them in time-out – but the consequences of teenage-hood are much greater, harder to hold up, harder to stand by, harder to watch.
I wish I knew that I can’t change their behavior. Really, I never could. They made choices when they were little to avoid consequences – and as long as I choose the currency that was most effective I could manipulate them into behaving. But it was their choice. Their choices are more powerful now, come with greater reward and more significant risk. I can ground them, I can take away their phone and their car or their driving privileges, but they alone have to choose to conform. I can make my thoughts, my beliefs and my feelings known – and then it’s up to them.
I wish I would have known how much I enjoy their company. How proud I am of who they are. How much I like each one of them. How much I mourn for the loss of their little selves – but also how much I love to watch them change, learn, grow. I wish I would have known that I could still see my little boys with sticky hands, bruised shins and no shoes if I looked closely enough. Jackson used to smile this little crooked, sideways smile, I wish I would have known that I could still see it if I looked closely enough, it’s there underneath his teenage laugh. I wish I would have known that Cooper’s endless energy and constant motion still existed – he has just learned to channel and focus it (mostly!). That Aiden’s long, platinum blond curls and the little spitfire who wore them is still inside the shy, unsure tween. I wish I knew I didn’t need to mourn who they were to celebrate who they are becoming.
I wish I would have known that I would miss his physical presence. The weight of him in a room. I would miss his voice and his ideas. I didn’t realize he would be gone so quickly.
Hindsight is 20/20.