In the year since my son was born, I have received more advice than ever before in my adult life. Always well-intentioned, the parenting advice has come from family, friends, colleagues, and strangers and has ranged from the obvious (“your life will never be the same”) to the absurd (“get on several preschool waiting lists now”). But amongst it all, one counsel has been repeated millions of times, by every type of person in every conceivable situation: “Enjoy these early years, they fly by.”
I usually respond, “I know, and I am,” because I’m a carpe diem type by nature and even more so when I see my son growing up before my eyes. But after one particularly emphatic grandmother accosted me on a subway train and practically ordered me to “make the most of this time,” I started to think about what that means. I wish I could stop, or at least slow, the passage of time so that I could enjoy this wonderful stage in my son’s life. I wish I did not have to leave him to go to work. I wish did not feel so tired so I could be more present and patient. I wish I could hire someone else to handle my “to do” list so my only responsibility was to foster the health, happiness, and growth of my son. Since none of these wishes looks likely to come true anytime soon, however, I try to make the most of the time we have together.
For one thing, that means minimizing distractions when I am with my son. I check voice mails and make phone calls on my way home from work, and then turn off my phone (yes, off!) before I walk through the front door. Sometimes I’ll turn it on again after the baby is in bed, but usually I leave it off to allow for quality time with my husband (so my apologies is you try to reach me after 6pm on weeknights!).
I also avoid sitting down at the computer or checking emails as much as possible while my son is awake. For one thing, whenever he sees a screen he is drawn to it to the exclusion of whatever fun thing he’d been doing. I used to check emails while I nursed, but then my son started grabbing my iPod and throwing it to the floor, clearly indicating that he wanted my full attention. Now we gaze lovingly at each other while he breastfeeds, making it a special bonding time (even though not particularly productive).
One of the best ways to get quality time with my son is to join him in the bath tub. Sure, it’s a little squished, and I don’t particularly enjoy sitting in three inches of lukewarm water (which often has bits of broccoli or spit-up floating in it), but my son’s joy is contagious and we always end up laughing a lot. My one-year-old does not talk much yet, but he’s mastered boat and car sounds so there’s a lot of “brrrrroom”ing and beeping as he splashes his toys through the water. Then there’s the 6pm dance parties when I get home from work – better than any bar’s happy hour.
As my son has become more physically independent – he now walks and runs with confidence, can climb onto and down from our furniture, and opens and shuts doors – he has also become more attached to his parents. He will play quite happily by himself for fifteen minutes, and then come plop himself down in our laps with a book or a toy. My son has always been a cuddler, but now he will stop what he’s doing to steal a hug. It is a sweet surprise every time.
My favorite moments with my son are when he learns something new. This morning he managed to get the sheep and the farmer into his barnyard puzzle all by himself, and he was as thrilled as I was. He squealed and applauded himself, and then took out the pieces to put them back in again. And again, and again. My husband insists that our son waits to attempt new skills until I am around, but I know I miss a lot of breakthroughs when I am at work. I just have to enjoy the ones I get to witness.
When I was very pregnant friends, family, and strangers were constantly advising me to “sleep now,” as if I could store up rest like a camel. The endless refrain of “enjoy your baby, he’ll grow up so fast” is equally frustrating, since I am doing my best to make the most of every minute of my son’s life but nothing I can do will slow his rapid growth. And yet, when I meet parents of a newborn, I invariably get misty-eyed and smile, “enjoy this time – it flies by!”