“Kathy, your son just drove away with my car,” said my husband, laughing, as he came in the front door after mowing the lawn.
We looked at each other in disbelief that the same child who spurred us to purchase the black Camry is now driving it. Even if it’s just to my parents house six blocks away.
Neither one of us would be comfortable with him driving it much further. The car was relegated to a “station” car years ago, and it gets my husband to and from the train each day. But for Tom it means a bit of freedom. Today he grabbed his computer and went to his grandparents to work on a paper. He needed a place where there’s no younger brother or sister to bug him or distract him from his work.
I watched him drive away in the same car we took him home from the hospital in 18 years ago and marveled at how fast it has all gone by.
Of course people told me that time with my kids would go quickly. Blink and it’s gone, they would say. Cherish every moment, they would chirp.
Some days I just wanted to scream, albeit ever so politely, “Shut up.”
It seemed rarely a day could go by without someone in the grocery store taking a minute out of their day to tell me that I would look back at my days with a toddler Tom sitting in the front seat of a shopping cart spitting out the piece of cheese that the deli guy just gave him right into my open hand, with longing.
I can remember leaving the supermarket as an older woman laughed, while I struggled to put my infant daughter in her carseat and at the same time fielded questions from a four-year-old Tom about why I wouldn’t let him have cookies for breakfast when the store sold a cereal called Cookie Crisp. “You will miss this one day,” she said as she got into her pristine car. Mine smelled like the diaper I was going to have to change the minute I got home.
Then there were the moms at the park who told me they so missed their baby days while they sat, sipped lattes, chatted with each other on benches, and watched their school-aged children climb and play. I would flash them my best crazed-mom smile as I ran around chasing a three-year-old Lizzy while wearing an infant Peter in a baby carrier and worried that he might throw up the bottle I just fed him.
Were these other people right? After all time does seem to speed up the minute the stick turns pink. But who had the time to ponder it all? I was too busy cleaning up vomit, taking kids to doctors, and helping with homework. I was also busy cooking, cleaning, and throwing in yet another load of laundry.
I still remember like it was just last week the day Joe and I took turns sitting in the bathroom with a five-year-old Lizzy at the Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast because she was too scared to watch the show that we spent a small fortune on. The day seemed as if it would never, ever, end. It, too, went by too quickly. Ten years have gone by since then. I can also remember Lizzy’s first dance recital in front of a live audience with the other girls from her special needs dance class.
The sleepless nights I spent terrified that Tom’s dyslexia would mean he would never graduate or be able to make friends melted away. This spring I watched him win a scholarship and take a date to the prom. Earlier this month he started college.
Life goes fast. Life with children goes by even faster.
When I was in the middle of the mess, the last thing I wanted to hear was that I needed to cherish every single moment. Because I couldn’t. And quite frankly, I didn’t want to.
What people didn’t tell me was that as the years go by, the harder, scarier days get fuzzier, and the sweeter days grow dearer.
I’m glad that I was able to file away the wonderful, totally terrifying day I sat in the backseat of a brand new Camry with my newborn son, leaving the hospital dressed in the outfit it took me four weeks to pick out. It made it a little easier to watch him drive away from our house in that same car.