Monday, June 13, 2016

Sunday's Column: "They Grow Up So Fast"


Graduation brings mist of wistfulness

By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
JUNE 12, 2016

I have become that well-meaning but annoying older woman who looks wistfully at babies in church or the grocery store and comments, uninvited, “Make sure you enjoy them while they’re little. They grow up so fast.”

I wasn’t ever going to say that. In the swamp of exhausted young motherhood, those intrusive words were accusing mosquitoes buzzing around my head, a dank whiff of guilt, a splash of worry that everyone else had just loved this stage and I was the only one who didn’t.

Of course I adored my children and delighted in kissing their exquisite baby cheeks and writing down the brilliant questions they asked at age 4. But the enjoyment was an intermittent thing, slotted between the realities of chiseling off the mashed potatoes super-glued to the high chair tray, 2-year-olds bent on destruction, overly verbal preschool sisters putting each other down with subtle nastiness, and, in those pre-Google days, trying to find out if the English ivy leaf the baby had just eaten was poisonous.

“Mine are all grown up now,” the older women always said, there in the McDonald’s restroom as I jostled the fussy baby and shooed the toddler into the stall, or in the foyer after a church service in which our kids wrote in the hymnals or shot a rubber band across the aisle or asked in loud voices if the lady in front of us was pregnant.

“This too shall pass,” people told me during the weeks of chicken pox, the months of morning sickness and colic, the reckless insanity of small boys pulling Crock Pots or hot coffee on their heads.

It didn’t help.

I found the chicken pox photos when I was hunting for pictures for the slide show at Jenny’s graduation. April, 1994: four miserable little children covered in pox. Amy looked like she’d been dunked in boiling water. Emily was blotched with big oozy spots. The boys were thickly polka-dotted in red. I recall blurred weeks of exhausted days and frightening fevers turning into long impossible nights, crying with weariness.

Incredibly, I found myself examining the chicken-pox photos with just a bit of nostalgia. Look at what we survived! I was so needed, so indispensable, and we were all a lot tougher than we knew.

I made sure Jenny, our youngest, got the vaccination. Jenny is 17 now, taller than me, lively, energetic, gracious, freckled, ambitious and funny.

And grown up, so suddenly it stuns me.

As I knelt in the attic and sat at the computer, sorting through hundreds of old photographs in a hunt for 50 to represent Jenny’s life, the wonder of her childhood, of all their childhoods, of any childhood, plunged me into nostalgia.

“Oh my word! Look at her. She was just so CUTE! So alert, looking right in your eyes at 3 months old! And that curly red hair. Unbelievable.”

In stacks of photos, she was watering flowers, playing with the dog, running, climbing, painting, writing, exploring, dressing up, making terrible happy messes.

Later, in digital photos, she was shooting a homemade bow and arrow, posing on the shed roof, holding a pink basketball, biking, celebrating with friends.

And always grinning.

How did it vanish so fast?
Jenny at 3 months old and as a 17-year-old graduate.
[Grad photo by Janane Nguyen Photography]
In some ways I enjoyed Jenny more than the others, not only because she was less defiant and got only a mild case of chicken pox at 10 years old, but also because by child number six a mom knows what to expect, what to freak out about (not much), and what to let go (most things.)

We know how quickly each phase will pass.

Today Jenny has a driver’s license, a high school diploma and a college student aid application. With her sights fixed on community college and Oregon State University, she wants to be a mechanical engineer like her big brothers. She likes to sing, write and skateboard with her friends.

God help me, when did this happen? I want her back, just for a little bit, that wild red-headed little girl that giggled during her bedtime prayers and studied bugs and leaped fearlessly off the porch rail onto the trampoline.

Her graduation means that all of my six are adults. I’m finished with braiding hair in the morning, replacing boys’ jeans, and conducting lizard and cat funerals. My 22 years as a church-school mom are over as well — no more signing off on homework or sewing angel costumes at Christmas or rooting for both teams at the student vs. alumni softball game.

In fact, I want all six back for a day or a month, noisy and dirty and full of questions, arguing about turns and front seats and whether a horse or a helicopter would be better for going to work at our grass-seed warehouse.

Maybe it’s the unknown that scares me, moving into this vague new phase.

“Your life is so defined,” a single and childless friend told me, enviously, when the kids ranged from 1 year old to 14. “You know your purpose. You know every day exactly what you’re supposed to do.”

If I’m like my grandma, I have 50 years ahead of me, full of possibility but forcing me to define my own roles, my own avenues of ministry, my own investments of time.

A good and exciting stage, but it lacks the crucial essence and purpose of the past.

I look at the young moms around me and see their bulging diaper bags and exhausted eyes. But more than that, I see the fleeting moment of that baby in their arms and his or her smooth plump squishable kicking legs, the endlessly curious eyes and grasping hands — and the words come out of my mouth, unstoppable. “Enjoy them while they’re little. They grow up so fast.”

The intrusive grandmas were right: It’s a miraculous time of life, it all goes by in a flash, you never get it back again, and you miss it like crazy once it’s gone.


  1. First of all, congratulations to Jenny--the graduate! I think it is lovely that she wants to follow in her brothers' footsteps. You still have many years ahead to enjoy her life experiences and achievements--with at least the next four being at home or close to home. I also enjoyed reading your comments and observations about what it was like to be her mom and smiled quite a few times as I read phrases such as "conducting lizard and cat funerals". This reminded me of my granddaughter, now 13, who recently called a snake she found, "soooo cute, adorable . . . I just want to hug him." Where did that come from! Yes, I agree, children grow up so fast, and I think it's okay to say it. Most moms are not truly offended.

  2. This almost made me cry! We are just starting into this phase of life. Our oldest will soon turn 18, and I already feel sad about the ending of his childhood. I can't imagine when it's our youngest at this stage. I really do want to enjoy our children's childhoods (our youngest is 3). I am already looking forward to grandchildren :). Thanks for the great article.

  3. I share your opinion of the annoyance of being told "enjoy your children when they are little..."

    Today mine are all grown with children of their own - ranging in ages from 22-4 months. I never did miss the diaper/teething/cranky era of childhood. But what I do miss is the gathering of entire family with the oldest being adults all sitting around the table and having meaningful discussions. Today all but one have left the area and we rarely are all together at the same time. And....I love to have all our boys together and hearing their discussions with the wives chiming in...ah - such a blessing.

    Thanks for posting the article.

  4. I too am at the "end" of the active, hands on stage of parenting. Our youngest also graduated from high school. Our second oldest is just engaged and planning a wedding, our first! We look forward with great anticipation to grandchildren. I do remember when Dandylion was born, realizing that he was our last, pledging to enjoy each moment and stage as he grew. It does go by in a flash and the bad memories fade and the gems shine brightly. I've learned more about God, Our Heavenly Father, through parenting than from any scripture verses. As I go through experiences with our children I think "Oh this must be how he feels about me, his child." I repent and try harder to be obedient and grateful.

    Congrats on reaching your own milestone; may the coming years bring continued joy and growth.

  5. Congrats on reaching this milestone.

    I simultaneously laughed at cried as I read. You see, I'm in that crazy, sticky, busy, running season of life. My oldest just finished first grade and much as I try to appreciate this stage I really am waiting to get beyond some of it.

  6. i'm typing one-handed while nursing 10 day old number 6. i'm the mom with the tired eyes and bulging diaper bag. i'm the mom who is finally starting to realize that they do grow up fast. i'm the mom that wishes that the nostalgic older moms would once in a while come over to wash the sink full of dishes, or bring a loaf of bread, or sweep the crumby floor while they reminisce about those lovely days that pass so quickly. because sometimes, much as i WANT to enjoy these days, i feel so much pressure to raise/train the children right and just get them fed and keep them from pestering each other too much that i'm not sure when to actually enjoy the story i'm falling asleep while reading. i struggle. i struggle sometimes, wondering why god blessed me with so many children when others wish for even 1 so badly...when i feel like they (the longing women) would be better mothers than i...i guess i'm just asking that those of you who are past some of the hands-on stage to PRAY for the younger moms, that we can love our children well. and, if there's any room in your packed schedules, to do a little hands-on mentoring. we need it. even if we had/have great moms. sarah

  7. P.S. Please, to whoever reads this, hear my tired heart. Somehow my heart doesn't always come out clearly in what I write. I'm glad for each and every one of my 6; and I don't expect all the women in the church to come help me, because they each have their own life work, no matter what stage of life they're in, and are not responsible to help me with mine. I just liked how you (Dorcas) remembered that some of those little years were hard; and remember that those of us still in those years don't have a lot of perspective, and that telling us to enjoy it still doesn't give us the perspective you have. However, remembering some of the tough times and how you survived and how your perspective has changed...telling those stories to the younger moms actually does encourage us. Or at least me. Sarah

  8. A beautiful read while I'm nursing one of my month-old twin girls!

  9. Of the 20 people at my baby shower, 19 wrote on the advice cards, "Enjoy them while they're little; they grow up so fast."
    "Of course," I thought, first-time-mom that I am. "Why wouldn't you?"
    Now my question is, "BUT HOW?" How do you enjoy days filled with non-stop colicky crying? How to enjoy your little one when she doesn't sleep and you're too exhausted to think of much besides your own sleep deprivation? How to enjoy her when, after feeding, changing, and playing together, she tugs constantly at your skirt and cries as you do your work? How do you enjoy someone you just want to get away from at times? How to enjoy life when you're completely overwhelmed?
    This blog made me cry, I think because it gave me hope that someday (could it be?) I will look back and only remember the sweet things about this stage. Someday, after I have enjoyed her first steps, her first sentence, her first friends, her conversations, perhaps this first year will lose its sting. I hope so.

  10. Kelsie Troyer6/16/2016 4:35 PM

    Thanks for the great read!

  11. You know, I felt exactly the same way during that first crazy year of my first daighter's life. With colic and no sleep and moving and when she was 9 months old, morning sickness with baby # 2. Even when my oldest was 3, I would cry when I thought of her first year. I couldn't remember anything pleasant about it at all. Then baby # 3- another girl came along. Such a good sleeper, nothing but joy and sweetness from day one. As I watched her grow and develop suddenly sweet memories of her older sister's babyhood have flooded back. God redeemed that first year of being a mom. I wonder if that's similar to what older women feel when they see us with our small ones.

  12. Thank-you Dorcas. As a young mom I do appreciate your perspective. Enjoyed this post very much and the comments also!

  13. Thank-you Dorcas. As a young mom I do appreciate your perspective. Enjoyed this post very much and the comments also!

  14. Thanks...shedding some tears here. Mine are 14, 12 and 10 and your post gives me fresh inspiration to live in the moment with them. Your writing often gives me a sense of relief to know that "good" moms inevitably have some regrets. I read your blog a lot. Thank you!- a reader who doesn't comment much but deeply appreciates your posts.

  15. Lovely post Dorcas! I love reading your real and honest words in this world of gloss. I had a little cry at your words too, as I too feel them so strongly. Thank you.

  16. So glad to read that I am not the only one experiencing this 'empty nest' reality. I SWORE I would not be one of those women who smile at new families and make those comments, but I do~ Parenting was the most fun I will ever have, all 18-19 active, fun years of it and had I known it was going to be such a blast I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have waited until I was thirty to start! But we did, and now they are grown, well adjusted and a huge joy to us. I guess parenting doesn't really stop; I still talk to my 86 year old mom daily, enjoying her advice and input. And my kids still stop by to raid the fridge and discuss the latest whatever. I admire your list of 'things to do'~ I am half way through my masters in teaching, hoping to enjoy more kids as the years wear on. There's so much fun to be had and more kids to listen to and hear their stories.. Blessings to you, thank you for your words!