Friday, January 20, 2012

Little Old Ladies Tell the Truth

In lieu of Quick Takes, today I'd like to write a response to blog post I've seen linked all over the Internet.  Maybe you've seen it too?  It's called Don't Carpe Diem by Glennon Melton.  It is some seriously awesome writing and I think every mother in the country should read it.  It would make all of us feel of a whole helluva lot better.

The part I want to respond to is when she writes about the little old ladies who approach you at Target, you with your overflowing cart and unruly children, and tell you to enjoy it because this time will go by so fast.  Glennon goes on to write about how this isn't reality.  And she's right.  While I would love to sit and stare at my beautiful baby daughter all day long, to coo at her and smile back at her and to try my damnedest to make her laugh, the reality of it all is that the laundry needs to be folded and put away, dinner needs to be cooked, a two-year needs to be dashed to the potty and those fingerprints on the window are really starting to get on my nerves.  And while all that is going on, that daughter of mine has gone from a week old to nearly three months old.  Moments slipped between my fingers while I was dealing

What I want to say about those little old ladies at Target is that they're not telling us a pack of lies.  They're telling us the truth.  Or the truth as best they can remember it.  Because that's the thing about life experiences.  We all remember the past in rose-colored glasses.

I grew up with a mom who was much like myself.  She took care of the house too much and played with her kids too little.  Or at least that's what she tells me.  But what I remember about my childhood was a mom who always made the bed with sheets that were dried in the spring breeze.  A mom who had homemade chocolate chip cookies waiting for us when we got home from school.  A mom who read aloud "Little Women" and "A Little Princess" every night before bed.

She says she didn't play with us enough but I remember the hot summer night when our whole family laughed and ran around outside while having a water fight and then discreetly stripped to our skivvies in the backyard before going in the house.  She says she never let us have sugar cereal but I remember how she fed our bellies with good food for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  (And I also remember the once-a-year summer trips when we got to bring the mini cereal boxes that included Cinnamon Toast Crunch.)  She says she never took us to Disney World.  But I remember amazing ski vacations in the Rocky Mountains, jumping in the lakes at summer cabins up North and searching for seashells on Sanibel Island.  She says she never bought us name-brand clothing.  But I'll never forget the one Christmas when I opened up a pair of Gerbeaud jeans.

Did she yell at us?  Probably.  Did she lose her temper?  I'm sure of it.  Did she ever make a parenting mistake?  All the time.

But I couldn't tell you a single story of it ever happening.  At least to my recollection.

I look back on my college years as the fondest four years of my life.  It's where I met my husband.  And my friends for life.  It's where we stayed out late, slept in, went to interesting classes, ate junk food and drank too much.  The biggest responsibility I had was paying my cell phone bill each month.  Which I think was less than $30.  My employment consisted of watching some pretty cool kids and bringing them to the pool each day.  I still can't believe I got paid for that.  I listened to whatever I wanted on the radio and watched whatever I wanted on television.  I had no idea a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse show even existed and I certainly didn't know how to sing its theme song.

But if I really rack my memory about college I also know there were a lot of tears.  Frustrations over a term paper.  A bad grade on a test.  Fights with the boyfriend.  Worries about roommates and where I would live next semester.  I ate food that made me gain weight.  I never had enough money to go out.  And if I did, I sure felt like crap the next day.  But ask me about my college experience and I'll never tell you these things.  I'm not trying to hide or sugarcoat anything.  In an overall summary of my memory, college really was the time of my life.

And I think that's what these little old ladies mean when they tell us to enjoy it now for soon it will all be done.  When I wake up in the morning I never ask myself what I will do that day.  I know what I have to do.  I have a purpose, however exhausting that purpose might be.

Those little old ladies wake up each morning with an entire day of nothingness in front of them.  Of course I'm generalizing here but what I'm trying to say is that they don't have little lives dependent on them.  They don't have anyone who needs them for survival anymore.  And that hurts a little.  It feels good to be needed.  And it feels good to be solely responsible for a little piece of the future.  To be in charge of these molds who look to us for their every little need.

A few weeks ago I was in the basement of our church attending donut Sunday after mass.  I was walking across the cafeteria with Katherine in one arm and guiding Lucy with my other when a small, shaking, fragile hand reached out to me.  It was an old woman who appeared to be in failing health.  She had no teeth and couldn't really speak,  her hair was falling out, one of her eyes didn't open all the way, and her whole body just looked like it was ready to throw in the towel.  But she reached out to me anyway and then pulled Lucy in close for a hug.  Then she looked at Katherine, really looked into her eyes, and she smiled a huge toothless grin.

That's what little children do for little old ladies.  They don't remind them of the time when they had piles of laundry or when they spanked when they shouldn't have or when they yelled too much or all the sleepless nights of nursing a newborn or when their toddler wet her pants three times in one day or how long it took to get every one's hats, mittens, coats and boots on or that one night when she couldn't get it together enough to get dinner on the table.

Instead, little old ladies smile because children remind them of their glory days.  When they woke up each morning and knew exactly what the day would ask of them.  When they had enough strength to birth a baby out of their body.  And breastfeed the baby while reading a story to the toddler.  When they knew the exact remedy for curing the cough in the middle of the night.  And how to get the spaghetti sauce stain out of the school uniform.

They remember sweet kisses before bedtime.  Handmade ornaments for the Christmas Tree.  Scratchy five-year-old handwriting that said, "I love you, Mommy."  Paper birthday crowns.  Dr. Seuss.  Painting tiny toenails.  Pigtails.  Dirt under his fingernails.  Plastic swimming pools.  Tutus and princess wands.  Taking off the training wheels.  Snowmen in the backyard.  Swinging until his feet touches the branches.  Big, fat, rosy cheeks.  Chubby baby fingers.  Somersaults and cartwheels.  The smell of popcorn during a Friday night movie at home.  The flutter of eyelids while they're sleeping.  The sound of two of them giggling together.  Wisps of hair and extra long eyelashes.  And yes, even sweet, tiny fingerprints on the windows.

Ask a woman at the end of her life what she remembers most and this is it my friends.

Yes, it's exhausting and frustrating and boring and chaotic and one hundred percent selfless.  Some days are even the worst you've ever experienced.

But when little old ladies tell you they enjoyed every moment of being a parent, they're not lying.  It's all they remember.  Even if it is behind rose-colored glasses.


  1. Absolutely beautiful Jenny. So true about motherhood; exhausting but the most wonderful experience I have ever had. There is nothing better than the "I love your love" comments of a three year old or the snuggles of a little one year old that still smells like baby bath at night! I pray my children remember the good times and not the "not so good" ones.

  2. What a great blog! So well written and well said. Thanks for giving me something great to read tonight! It made my crazy day not feel so crazy:)


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