Happily Even After
The Days Are Long, But the Years Are Short
by Stacey Noem
Recently our youngest, Lucy, began full days at her Montessori school. It has taken weeks for Joshua and me to come to grips with our new parenting reality: we have no small children; no infants, babies or toddlers. We have only “school-aged” children.
There are now giant gaping stretches of time in the morning and early afternoon that don’t require any child care or parenting from us.
When we first moved to Portland there was a time like this in our lives. Oscar was in school and we were expecting Simon. Joshua and I filled those free mornings/afternoons by both working (we share a job) so that we could both be home with Oscar when his day was done. We knew then that it was a short-lived arrangement. Once Simon was born we would take advantage of our job-share to switch off as full-time parent and full-time professional.
That was 5 1/2 yeas ago. It has been more than five years of juggling babies, herding new walkers, and carrying toddlers tired of walking. More than five years of figuring out nap schedules, potty training, moving through different stages of car seats, and driving to and from first one then two schools.
My book club recently finished a book that, speaking about parenting, said: “The days are long, but the years are short.”
I read and re-read that line. I have quoted it to about ten different parents. It is SO true and exactly how I am feeling right now. In fact, that sentiment, while I couldn’t have articulated it nearly as eloquently nor as concisely, is basically what got us through the last five and a half years.
That is essentially how I felt the day I was trying to put both new infant, Lucy, and 16-month-old Simon down for naps and each of them would cry the moment I let them go. I needed a nap more than either of them. So the three of us just sat on the floor crying together. Those days were long…
That is how I felt trying to shop for a baby shower present for a friend with baby Lucy in a sling, toddler Simon sitting in our shopping cart and (little) big brother Oscar wanting to push the cart. It was warm in the store; even warmer with the sling on. I had to keep one eye on children while trying to shop for a gift with the other eye. Then Oscar accidentally tipped the cart over and toddler Simon went over with it (he was completely fine). I remember wondering how in the world I was going to juggle all three of them at once let alone keep them alive. Those days were long…
That is how I have felt shuttling three children to two different schools many, many miles apart across Portland each morning only to repeat the whole trip for three different dismissal times each afternoon. Those days were very long…
…But the years were short. And now that is suddenly all over. For the last few weeks I have felt like we have entered a different stage of parenthood. It is a very strange feeling. There is a lot of letting go involved. Not letting go of the children. Letting go of my image or perception of us as parents. We don’t have newborns we have to carry all the time. We don’t have toddlers we need to protect from banging their heads on furniture. Our role is different from that now. But it is the role I have had and who I have understood myself to be for the last 10 years. My identity is changing.
Now I am the mother of school-age children who will place their own unique set of demands upon Joshua and me. I know our concerns can begin to shift from simply trying to keep them alive and thriving, to shaping who they are as individuals and helping them to grow in the image of God.
But how does that look? How will I know how to do that? I know how to spoon-feed an infant; get a two year old to stop crying; potty train a three year old and navigate a grocery story with three children. But I haven’t done THIS before.
I have read that St. Monica, mother to St. Augustine, prayed for her son constantly. (Pretty effective. They both ended up saints.) As we transition to this new stage of parenting, I can’t help but feel the extra time opening up (those giant gaping stretches of time) as an invitation to go more deeply into the spiritual side of parenthood. The more I think about it, the more I feel called to dedicate part of that time each day in prayer for my children—in prayer for the days that feel long and the years that are much too short.
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