When my daughter was a baby she was a people magnet. They would coo at her, reminisce about their own child’s once pudgy baby cheeks, or make silly faces in the hope of eliciting one of her fantastically gummy grins.
These interactions were usually 100% joy until we were ready to part ways. People just couldn’t seem to say goodbye without bestowing me with (unsolicited) advice. “She is so sweet! Wait until she is my kid’s age. It’s all over once they hit 2 (or 3, or 10 or 13…).” This always left me feeling vaguely… icky. How could these people take such delight in my little monkey and then turn around and tell me to expect the worst? Were they right? Would she soon be making my life a living hell?
One day I was at the laundromat when a woman and her pre-teen daughter came over to admire the little person strapped to my front. The mom cooed. Aya cooed back. The little girl laughed. Aya produced one gummy grin after another. As we said goodbye and the mom started to speak. “Enjoy her…” she began. I braced myself for the usual speech about the horrors to come. I forced a smile.
I was in for a surprise. This woman gave me the best advice about parenthood I have ever received. Even ten years later I remember the pleasure and confidence that it gave me.
“Enjoy her… Each stage is wonderful in its own way. There is nothing that compares to getting to know who your child as they grow and develop.” She and her daughter smiled at us and then they were gone.
You may wonder who was right about the years to come. The ones who warned me of impending battles or the woman at the laundromat? The answer is that both pieces of advice were sound. As expected, two was hard as my daughter fought to assert her independence. Three brought a new set of power struggles. When she was seven I had to deal with the fact that I was no longer the apple of her eye as she developed increasingly complex friendships. Now, at ten, I have a full-on tween, who is as sweet and loving as can be one moment and moves on to rolling her eyes like a champ at the blink of an instant.
It’s been hard. I will be the first to admit that I have been caught crying in front of my computer while I perused the endless photos of my long gone, gummy grinned baby.
But the part about each stage being wonderful? It has been utterly and completely true, and that overshadows the rough stuff. I love ten year old Aya. She can be moody, but she can be startlingly empathetic. She thinks great big thoughts that a baby could never begin to entertain. She goofy and full of imagination and articulate and kind. I like her a lot, and I can’t wait to see how she changes in the years to come. Who will she be as a professional? Maybe as a mother?
These days my girl and I are the ones admiring other people’s babies. Their dimpled elbows and gummy grins make me wish at times for another little one. They remind me of the little gummy grinned baby that Aya used to be, but I wouldn’t change her back for a million bucks.
Sometimes these babies make me wistful for Aya’s babyhood. But babyhood was before we started making up stories together, or watching cooking shows. Before she was taller than me and before she could give her opinion on equality and other important matters. Before she was clumsy, and quirky and… Aya. Aya as I define her now.
So after we finish admiring these other peoples’ babies, I try to give the laundromat lady’s advice to their caregivers as we say our goodbyes.
“Enjoy them. The hard parts won’t always seem important. Laugh with them. Make little rituals. Really get to know them. Enjoy your children… at EVERY stage.”
What is the best piece of advice you ever got? What do you love about your child NOW?