I am going to try to write this without crying. People tell you this when you are pregnant and when your kids are little: Enjoy them while they are young because they grow up too fast. I am kind of a bitch about being told what to do, especially by strangers, but this one, I always welcomed. I had known friends and relatives who had kids years before me and now some of those babies were in their early teens. I knew it was so so true, and I welcomed those occasional reminders.
And I did treasure my kids. I held my babies more than the books said you should and I took too much time off from work to hang out with them and sometimes I left work early to get them out of daycare just because I missed them. I tried to remember to take them special places on days off and weekends and in the summer. I tried to remember to take them with me on errands as often as they would agree to come with me and I tried to talk to them in the car and at dinner and whenever I got a chance. Sometimes I am sure they were rolling their eyes, thinking, Jeeze, Mom, get your own life.
And now, now the oldest one has been at college for three years and I still miss him every day and the youngest one is deciding which college to go to in the fall, an especially mean trick of life since having him be my only child has made me get to know and adore and enjoy him more than ever.
And so, there is this thing I do. When I am out in public places, I smile at kids and I smile at their parents and sometimes I even tell them something good about their kids. "Aw, even when he is tired and a little cranky, he still cracks a beautiful smile" or "Your kids play together really well!"
Today, at a cafe in a big department store, a tiny boy was crying and having a fit as his grandmother was trying to watch him while the mother got their meals. But the grandmother gave up and took him to his mother, so when the mother got to the table with all their meals stacked on one tray in one hand and the boy in the other arm, she set down the tray and roughly plunked him into his seat. He was at the edge of crying all over again. I looked him straight in the eyes and smiled my biggest goofiest smile. He smiled back. His mother noticed and I smiled at her. She said "Oh, aren't you a pretty boy!" and went from angry and frustrated to delighted in her beautiful son again.
It's a small gift I can give to remind tired and cranky parents what a joy their kids are and it takes some of the sting out of how grown up and independent my own boys are.
Yes, I miss them as they move on to their own lives, but it's what we have them for: To enjoy and shape and send out into the world to make their own ways. My success at raising them to be competent and confident was due to involvement that makes it all the more bittersweet for the connections we share.
If you are a parent of young kids now, take a deep breath and reach for the joy: Appreciate them as much as you can every moment of every day because the DO grow up so so fast.
If you are a parent whose kids have grown up and moved on, take the time to share a smile with somebody else's kids and to remind them to enjoy their beautiful children who will grow up oh so much too fast too!