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Challenge: Digging Deep

For Every Mom Wishing Time Would Slow Down (or For the One Wishing It Would Speed Up)

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"We're not getting this back, are we?"

In a rare occurrence, my husband and I are tracking in the same moment, and I can see my own feelings reflected in his face.

This backyard was my husband's vision when we first bought our house. Back then, it was a wild, woodsy, picnic-area-in-a-state-park type of yard. He wanted a place where our future kids could run and play in lots of space and green grass. We're watching his dream come true.

It's our 3rd summer of play here. The first summer, the twins were just over a year old. We helicoptered around them, squeezed in between them and their shadows - frantically laying lounge chairs on their sides in strategic locations, protecting them from all sorts of lurking dangers that drew them like magnets.

The next summer, we tailed them more like undercover cops - not up in their business but close enough if we had to step in for a quick arrest.

This summer, we had the freedom to sit under the gazebo - a key lime La Croix in my hand and a tall boy in his - and watch the boys from a distance.

From a distance. That gets me, and I sigh in both bittersweet contentment and resignation.

Our time with our little guys is short: every step of independence that makes our lives easier is a step taking them farther away from being our "little guys" and needing us like they used to.

From my front-row seat witnessing their babyhood into toddlerhood slowly morphing into childhood, I feel like a memory hoarder, desperately trying to collect every moment and fill up the vacant spaces in my mind until there's not even room to open the door.

And I'm wishing time would just slow down.

I struggle with this. How do I be fully present in these moments and still not lose them once they're gone? Is that even possible?

The human brain can't possibly hold on to every, single moment. Even now, so many things about their first 3 years are fuzzy to me - and that will only increase as they get older. New memories push out old ones, and the stickiest ones are squatters who claim the precious mental real estate.

The Long Days and the Short Years

I fight with myself.... sometimes praying for bedtime almost as soon as the sun's up, begging the day to end ... and yet, when I'm in a moment like this, I'm praying for time to please slow down.

There are times when I'm present enough to stop and take a picture not just with my iPhone (though that really helps), but with my mind, too. I'm cognizant enough to realize, "Hey, pay attention. Imprint this one on your mind. You'll want to remember this"...

Sitting with them on my lap, choking up as I read, "I am yours, you are mine, Mama loves you, Porcupine!...You're my star, my moon, my sun, Mama loves you, little one..."

Blowing raspberries on their bellies after bathtime, while they're wiggling and kicking their legs like frogs, hearing Trace Adkins sing from the living room, "You're gonna miss this, you're gonna want this back....You're gonna wish these days hadn't gone by so fast...."

Rocking them at bedtime and singing softly, "All along I believed I would find you, Time has brought your heart to me and I have loved you for A Thousand Years... I'll love you for a thousand more..."

Tears sting my eyes with the memories of these moments that have stolen my heart - but I can't hold on to.

Catch the Moments

With no shame, I admit I'm a card-carrying member of the This is Us fan club, and there's a scene from the first season that still replays in my mind.

William, Randall's biological father, is dying, and he's on the porch at Thanksgiving, talking to Kevin's then-girlfriend and co-star Olivia. She asks him what it's like to be dying:

"It feels like all these beautiful pieces of life are flying around me and I'm trying to catch them.

When my granddaughter falls asleep in my lap, I try to catch the feeling of her breathing against me.

And when I make my son laugh, I try to catch the sound of him laughing. How it rolls up from his chest.

But the pieces are moving faster now, and I can't catch them all. I can feel them slipping through my fingertips...

"Catch the moments of your life. Catch them while you're young and quick. Because sooner than you know it, you'll be old. And slow. And there'll be no more of them to catch."

That's exactly what I feel - like I'm trying to collect all these moments, and the more I try to grab, the more they're all falling through my fingers.

So what do you do with this? This tension of wanting to be present while wanting to hang on and not lose these moments? And right behind it, feeling guilty, because on some days, you just want some moments to be over?

Realizing Life While You Live It

My second year of teaching, I had one of the best experiences ever in my teaching career. After lunch, for 9th period, I had a small 11th grade English class - a handful of girls and maybe 2-3 boys. It was a class where you could be laid back with, but still get the work done.

I was 29 at the time - still a young, hip, single teacher - and I loved this group of kids. I taught Our Town by Thornton Wilder that year, and it's what every English teacher dreams of when she imagines being a teacher. It seriously could rival Anne of Green Gable's best teaching experience at Kingsport Ladies College.

It was a beautiful, sunny spring, and this was a group I could trust to take outside to read without worrying that they were going to stare off at school buses or birds or blades of grass like they'd never seen them before. Tiana - a sweet, smart, mature junior - played Emily, and Oscar - a hip, cool Hispanic boy who had the softest heart beneath all his suave exterior - played George. Listening to them read every day was absolute magic.

When we got to the final act, it was like the house lights went down and the spots came up on the stage. Here, Emily is seated with the dead (sorry! spoiler alert!), watching her funeral unfold on earth. She's allowed to go back and relive one day all over again.

The dead warn her not to, but she insists. Emily wants to pick the most special day, but the dead encourage her to "choose the least important day in your life. It will be important enough."

Emily picks her 12th birthday, and she's amazed at what she sees:

"I can't bear it. They're so young and beautiful. Why did they ever have to get old? Mama, I'm here. I'm grown up. I love you all, everything. - I can't look at everything hard enough. (pause, talking to her mother who does not hear her. She speaks with mounting urgency)

Oh, Mama, just look at me one minute as though you really saw me. Mama, fourteen years have gone by....

But, just for a moment now we're all together. Mama, just for a moment we're happy. Let's look at one another...

I can't. I can't go on. It goes so fast. We don't have time to look at one another. (she breaks down sobbing, she looks around)

I didn't realize. All that was going on in life and we never noticed. Take me back - up the hill - to my grave.

But first: Wait! One more look. Good-by, Good-by, world. Good-by, Grover's Corners. Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths and sleeping and waking up.

Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you. (she asks abruptly through her tears)

Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? - every, every minute? (she sighs) I'm ready to go back. I should have listened to you. That's all human beings are! Just blind people.

A lot of times, I'm overwhelmed. By my kids. By my life. But I do not want to be a blind person who doesn't realize life while I'm living it. I don't want to miss all that's going in life - to never even notice it.

The moments that choke you up. The moments you pray would hurry up and disappear. All of it is part of being here on earth. And it's God's gift to us. To appreciate when it's beautiful. And to find something to appreciate even when it's not.

All through the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon reminds us that life is fleeting. It's a vapor. Here today, gone tomorrow. So is our children's childhood. There's no way to hang on to it. We aren't promised a certain number of days or summers or years with them.

Our kids won't be little forever - which is heartbreaking and a relief at the same time (because, really, do we want 23-year-old toddlers?). And each consecutive stage has its own misadventures and bliss.

But Solomon still encourages us to enjoy life - to enjoy our families, our work (which includes guiding our tiny humans into independent, purposeful adulthood) - all the gifts we're given.

It's a sacred thing to enjoy the life you have. To really live the life you've been given. And to search for the joy in every stage (because some stages hide it better than others).

On the hardest days and the most ordinary days, I never want to lose the awe that I'm actually a mom after miscarriages and infertility, that these twin boy wonders are mine.

Letting Go of Trying to Hold On

The only thing to do is let go of trying to hold on - to just live it while it's there. The moment is a gift to be enjoyed, not hoarded. To notice, to appreciate, to be mindful of how special these ordinary moments are. To stop, even for a few seconds, to really, really see it. To savor it. To be IN it, not just around it or observe it. To thank God that you had it, even after it's over.

The answer is the same for the mom wishing time would slow down - and for the one wishing it would speed up (I know because I'm both):

There's no budging time. You can't slow it down or speed it up. All you can do is just be in that moment and thank God for His grace to you - either in the form of His amazing blessings and memories-in-the-making - or His grace that gives you everything you need to get through those hard moments. {And to look for the blessings that might be hiding in those tougher ones, too.}

Each moment has its own gifts, and God's gifts are always good.

Bathtime, bubbles, backyard tom-foolery - all good gifts.

Lego-shaped holes on your feet, pounds of Goldfish crumbs covering your car, a messy pile of shoes at the front door - all good gifts.

First steps, first words, first day of kindergarten, first date - all good gifts.

Tantrums, time-outs, teenage drama - all good gifts.

Last naptime, last carseat, last day of high school, last night sleeping under your roof - all good gifts.

Woven together, they make a beautiful life. One to be thankful that you had the chance to live.

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