Thursday, February 21, 2008

It marches on

I've often had people tell me, "The older you get, the faster time flies." That wisdom fell on deaf ears during my childhood years, when the months between Christmases seemed endless and summer vacation felt like a blissful eternity. As I entered adulthood, however, I started to believe it. I remember clearly the year I realized that all of the college athletes I watched in televised competitions were younger than me. And now I'm feeling it even more as I approach a full decade of marriage, as it's now the professional athletes who are approaching retirement at my age, and as I discovered not long ago that this year would have been the last year I could have legally auditioned for American Idol. (Not that I ever would...or ever should...but you know, it's good to have options.)

And then there's the huge spotlight that glaringly and constantly points out the passage of time - parenthood. "They grow up so fast" is both the most overused adage that's spoken of this stage of life and the one that's most hauntingly true. It's incomprehensible to me that we've gone from making decisions about when to start solid foods to discussions about when to start preschool. How did this happen?

The other day, as I held my second-born, my sweet two-and-a-half-month baby boy, I watched as he woke from a short nap. As he stretched his chubby arms above his head, his chin jutted out in a look of sleepy, pouty-lipped determination. And I was instantly and unexpectedly transported back to another time, when I gazed down at another beautiful newborn - his big sister, now three years old, who used to make the same face when she slept. "Honey, look! She's doing the chin thing", I'd often call to my husband during those simpler days, when we had little else to do but stare at our little girl and coo in amazement at every expression. I smiled as my mind traced over these memories, and then my eyes misted over as I recalled another one...

Fast forward a year and a half from those days of early parenthood. My tiny newborn girl was now an active, precocious toddler. Those first few weeks of sleepless nights and working hard for smiles were distant memories as the same child now charmed and exhausted us with her happy busyness. One afternoon, as naptime was approaching, she uncharacteristically fell asleep in my arms as I rocked her on the couch in the living room. I gave an inward, "Woohoo!", gathered her up carefully and started a careful trek through the house towards her waiting crib, eager to settle in for some rest and relaxation myself. As I passed through the dining room doorway, though, I glanced down and stopped in my tracks. For my eyes had fallen on her sweet face; eyes closed, cheeks flushed, hair pushed clumsily behind her ears...and that chin...that sweet, silly chin shoved forward, with her lips forming that familiar pout from long ago. The realization of time's ever-quickening pace came crashing down right then, and I knew I was receiving a gift in that moment; both a glimpse back in time and a moment I'd remember the rest of my life. My baby was, for a fleeting second, my baby again.

I don't know how long I stayed there. My arms grew tired and my back ached. A group of teenage girls strolled by outside the window, laughing and yelling in the summer sunshine. And I stood beside my dining room table, tears falling from my eyes as I rocked my baby. My baby who could now run and dance and sing and give hugs and kisses. My now three-year-old baby who today shot me a confused look when I offered to help her switch to a different computer game after she was done with the first one. "I am playing a different game, Mama", she said. "When I was little I couldn't do it because I needed help. But I'm a big girl now." Yes you are, sweetie. I stand corrected. And I stand in helpless, bittersweet awe as I watch time pass by. It keeps marching, yes it does...