"Those were the best days of my life."
Over the years, I'd heard a handful of people say that these years, the ones I'm in right now, were the best of their lives.
Really? I had thought. But I'm tired all the time! And the kids -- the kids are amazing. But they are also exhausting and demanding, and sometimes I feel like a robot slave to their relentless needs and demands.
The best days of my life.
I've been turning the phrase around in my head for the last few days. I've been trying it on, tentatively, like a dress that might get stuck around my hips, the fabric taut and puckery. The phrase tumbles and floats, scatters and reconvenes.
Nobody in my house is a newborn anymore. My kids can both walk and talk, and I can leave the room for a few minutes, knowing that if anything's wrong, I'll be alerted by either too much noise or too much eerie silence.
Still, the days when I'm home with my kids brim with duality. One sweet moment, snuggled with them in a little pile like cats, my heart thumps for them. For their sweet, smooth skin; the earthy boy smell of my son's hair; my daughter's creamy white cheeks. Moments later, my son lobs my iPhone at my lap, but it hits me in the back of the head, hard. My daughter shrieks at me to help her finish the jungle puzzle. All their noise aggravates my already aching head.
An hour later, somewhat recovered, I teach my son to pounce, hoping he'll notice the crucial moment of hesitation before the actual attack. He laughs hysterically. "My turn!" he says. His technique is surprisingly mature, as he manages to pin me, including my head, just enough to immobilize me but without inflicting pain. My muffled giggles delight him. God this is fun, I think.
We go from pouncing to a diaper change, and I wonder just how many more months it will be until I'm done wiping poo out of tiny genitals.
All day goes like this: a whirl of all of our emotions, rising and falling, me trying not to get swept away. The frustration of it taking 45 minutes to get out the door to go to the library. A dance party to Brick House. Doing the jungle puzzle for the 35th time with my daughter.
The demands: "Mama! Get me some more milk!" "Mama! I want a snack!" "Mama! I want Dada!" "Mama! Do the puzzle with me!" I can't finish any tasks -- even the ones I don't really want to do, like scrubbing dishes. The moments are exhausting. Exhilarating. Boring.
The kids are still innocent and ridiculously adorable. They don't know the worst things in life yet: the way people lob hurt at each other, the earth and themselves. I can, to a large degree, keep them safe. I am still their sun, and they orbit around me; they think me strong and sure and bright. Unconditional love flows between us like air, easy and unseen.
They still speak with their squeaky, melodic little kid voices. All the pieces of them they will shed like skin: these voices, their roundness, their obsessions and fantasies. Their smallness. And if there's anyone to remember these things, these pieces they will no longer need, it will be me -- keeper of the memories, holder of shedded skin.
I am nearly 40. I'm older than I've ever been, but if I'm lucky, someday it will seem hopelessly youthful. My body is still healthy. It is not as smooth as it once was, there are whispers of aches and pains, there are lines and creases; but they are still just whispers.
And yet. Some days are so hard. I miss my husband. I barely remember what it's like to be more than business partners in this crazy life. I miss our freedom. We are just far enough into parenting that we still remember -- lustily - how easily we could come and go before, how few our tethers were.
While my life is so, so good, it's still really hard to be human sometimes. To navigate ll these emotions and demands and moods -- both my own and those of the rest of my family. I think it's important to be able to complain, even when life is so very full and lovely.
And so I am trying to hold it both. To say how hard it is, having little kids, and medium-size kids, and big kids and grown-up kids. But it is also so lovely. And the hard parts? They'll fade when my days are open again, when the kids have other suns to circle around. The memories of the hard stuff will soften, all the diapers and tantrums and sleep deprivation will merge into a small cluster of memories, the same way most breaths are taken for granted, but all together they make up a whole life. This is why those older parents at the grocery store always tell you it goes by so fast, enjoy every moment. Because my kids' needs and wants so frequently conflict with my own, I will never enjoy every moment. But perhaps I can enjoy more of them.
I am ready to try on those words, "the best years of my life." Each decade since adolescence has gotten better. The awkward hell parade of high school gave way to the confusion and freedom of my 20s, full of crushes and road trips and grief. My 30s have been about building: a marriage, a community, a family, a life. As I near 40, I feel more and more comfortable with myself. We have found a loose rhythm, though I know it will change and change and change.
There will be hard times ahead that will make these days look golden. I know this. My body won't always be so strong. My babies won't be babies. People I love will die. This is life. So these days, right here, right now? These days with such frustrating moments that stretch on forever and other moments that pass so quickly you can barely touch them before they fade away? These might just be the best, hardest, fullest days of my life.
This post first appeared in the elephant journal.