Remember this feeling, I thought.
My daughter and I sat in her room listening to her Sesame Street playlist. We dug the baby clothes out of the closet for her new brother, and I explained that yes, she really was that small once.
Listening to Ernie sing about his rubber duckie, I was flooded with memories. It was just like in the movies when someone who's had amnesia suddenly remembers everything.
I remembered being a new mother and having no idea what that was supposed to look like.
I remembered swaying to Shakira with my baby until she fell asleep in my arms.
I remembered making this playlist when her brother was born three years ago.
I remembered the first time I took them out in the double jogger. It became a weekend ritual for just the three of us. Now there are three of them.
They were the kind of memories you want to go back and live in again.
But I also remembered how much pressure I felt back then. Pressure to be a good enough mother. To be a good enough wife. To earn that approval that I thought I needed so much.
Sometimes it's not clear that something doesn't matter until you get a little space from it (and a lot of perspective), but every now and then, life reminds you to slow down and look at it all without the pressure to make it anything other than what it already is.
In those moments, you wonder why you never saw it that way before. You vow to be more present from now until forever and to say just how much you love them before they all grow up.
And in those moments, your heart swells with gratitude and breaks into a million little pieces because you see so clearly it hurts.
Everything is changing all on its own. All the time.
My 3- and 5-year old looked suddenly enormous when I brought the baby home. It was as if someone had swapped my sweet babies with these kids overnight. But of course, they'd been growing and changing a little bit every day.
Every day, we're all a little older.
And every day, as everything moves so fast and we lose ourselves in one quest or another, we might miss the chance to just show up, be there, and see that we already have what’s really important.
This was one of those moments, and I didn't want to forget it. This absolute clarity.
I pulled out a notebook and spilled my heart all over the pages. Then I sent it into hiding. I usually go back and read through journal entries, but I couldn’t bring myself to look at this one. It somehow felt too raw. Too real.
When I eventually did, I found this:
Remember this. The tears that come from nowhere deep inside. The flood of vivid memories. All the phases and seasons. The parts I maybe took for granted thinking they would last forever and the parts I feared would. The things I thought were important and the things that actually turned out to be. The clarity. The things I know now that I wish I knew then but could only ever learn by going through it without knowing.
The GRATITUDE. The beauty I see where I usually see mess and imperfection. This love so big it doesn't even fit inside my body. I don't feel this because I didn't love enough. I feel this because I love so much. This feeling is falling in love. It's my heart expanding further than I thought it ever could. And it's so much love it’s hard to imagine loving more, but then I always do.
The tears did eventually stop. I brushed myself off, and I went about the rest of my day.
Maybe we can't have that clarity all the time. Maybe we shouldn't. It's an awful lot to take in.
But here's what I want to try to remember moving forward anyway:
The bumps are part of the beautiful bigger picture, and sometimes the really good stuff is hiding in them. Looking back, the times that I once wished would pass by quickly actually turned out to be the hardest to let go.
And...to be totally honest, sometimes the bumps are just bumpy.
It isn't all amazing all the time. I mean, daily life, right? It's where we're living, and I don't know about you, but where we're living can get messy.
Daily life is where the noise happens. It's sticky fingerprints on the windows, ants in the sink, tantrums in the parking lot, and sibling rivalry.
I guess that's the bittersweet thing about life. You can't wait until this tough part is over, but then it's gone and you wish you could have it back.
As I sat there, all I could think about were the years that had passed. They already happened. And it seemed like I missed it all. I felt guilty for a moment, but I realized that this feeling doesn't make me bad. It makes me a living, breathing, real, actual human.
Being present, loving, and appreciating where you are isn’t about never having a worry or having a bad day. It’s definitely not about never feeling like you wish you could go back for a little bit.
It’s about stepping out of the daily details every now and then. Showing up, slowing down, and opening yourself up to mayhem just as much as you do to the magic.
The bumps in the road are part of your path. When you’re frustrated with where you are and just wish you could move on already, trust that you’ll look back one day and realize that you’d been heading in the right direction all along.
When that’s hard, love yourself anyway because all of us are still growing up. And try not to beat yourself up about it too much, either. You can try this whole being present and growing up thing again tomorrow.
Leslie is the author of A Year of Happy, where she’s showing other mothers how to nurture themselves, be present in body, heart and mind, and bottle up the good stuff for rainy days and bumpy roads with her signature blend of joyful projects, guided journals, and delectable meditations. You can get your year of happy started now with the 2-minute revitalizing meditation on the house at https://www.ayearofhappy.com/revitalize.