Stephanie and Riley play a name game. Riley, who knows Stephanie prefers “Mommy” to “Mama,” sometimes says “Mama” just to see Stephanie’s reaction. Stephanie responds by saying “Rilo!” They go back and forth a few times before they fall into silly laughter. It’s fun to watch. I couldn’t have guessed that it would be so meaningful to me to see my daughter in the role of mom. I see the ways she parents like me and I have to admit, it is gratifying…makes me feel that I must have done some things right. I see the ways she is a better parent than I was and it is humbling. She is more consistent: firm, but not too firm. She’s more organized. She probably has an advantage dealing with the demands of parenting as she’s practiced the required skills on middle school math students. In my opinion, anyone who can face middle school every day can handle the single digit ages with one hand tied.
In the ongoing reveal that comes with each stage of life and parenting…now playing that role to a 26 and (gasp!) 29 year old…I’m struck with the epiphany: the more things change, the more they remain the same. In the position of the in-between generation I see how my mom and my daughter experience life….what has changed, what hasn’t. I hear my daughter say the things I said: how quickly children grow, how you can’t believe they’re already a year old, two, three….fill in the blank. My mom talks about how things were when she had children…no car seats, no seat belts, no disposable diapers, she was a stay-at-home-mom. My daughter has two car seats, has used disposable diapers, and by choice, is moving to cloth. She has a sitter for the school months when she works as a teacher. She makes baby food and takes the kids to the gym. But regardless of the externals of life, the work and joys of parenting children are really timeless.
Somehow, like a kaleidoscope turning, the pieces fall into place. I see my place in the continuum. Looking through photos of my children’s baby days, toddler days, school days, it seems like yesterday that I was the young mom; and, it seems like a lifetime ago that I was the young mom. Reminds me again, as Gretchen Rubin says, “the days are long, but the years are short.”
Stephanie and the little ones, Riley and Jack, just spent a week with us. It was delicious to see them and be part of the minute-to-minute, day-to-day. We picked strawberries, made jam, went to the library, the pool, saw fish, did a little shopping, watched Disney princesses, read books, made cupcakes, snuggled, played, splashed, and snapped photos. The days were long. But watching Riley, already three years old, and little Jack, cuddly six month old getting ready to crawl, I know: the years will be short. There’s no way to slow it down. The lesson of life is to savor the moment, drink in the details…their funny words or looks, the precious flashes of childhood that are often buried in all the work of childhood…the memories that write themselves on the heart and cement the bond between generations, parent to child, parent to child.
Riley and Jack in Alaska, Summer, 2013