The Days are Long, but the Years are Short

You hear it frequently…time passes quickly. Don’t wish the years away. They’ll be leaving for college before you know it. They are only small for a short time. The days are long, but the years are short.

I agree with all of the above, having discovered the sayings’ veracity firsthand. However, I also know, both from being a mother of multiple small children and from working with my clients who are currently in the thick of it, that sharing these tidbits of wisdom at the time does not help at all. When the laundry piles are taller than the children and when everyone needs to be fed and dressed, and it seems like everyone is crying and no one is helping, believe it or not, it can be difficult to remember that these are the sweetest days. You might actually cry over spilled milk.

My best advice when this describes the day that you are having? Lower your expectations. Seriously. In my memory, when I was a small child with three younger brothers, my mother kept the house immaculately, dinner was always hot and on time, our lunches were packed, and our permission slips were signed. On time. In an envelope marked “Colleen’s permission slip.”

However, if you are not as organizationally gifted as my mother is and was, lowering your expectations might be the best thing that you can do for yourself and your family.  And then simplify, simplify, simplify. Twice a day, I zip through my house and bring all the things that are downstairs that belong upstairs where they go and all the things that are upstairs that belong downstairs back to their spot. I make easy routines for the kids. Walk in the house. Sit on the bench that is next to the front door. Remove all cleats, shoes, shin guards, etc. and place them under the bench. If they smell like dead animal, spray them with the spray that is right on the shelf next to the front door. (If you have children that play sports, you know the smell that I am talking about).

All papers (permission slips, notifications, etc.) get left on my desk, which is across the hall from their bedrooms so that I can go through all the papers in a place that is near my checkbook (everything needs a check) and my drawer of envelopes. After dinner, I can sort through, fill out, throw out, write checks and return anything that goes back to the school into their binders before everything is lost forever. In other words, routines. Routines are a parent’s best friend. It is not exciting or sexy…but we are not going for the magazine cover here. We are trying to get through…and the more routine things are, the less likely that yelling needs to be involved. Yelling does not help. It doesn’t move you forward. It doesn’t make kids remember better. It sort of makes everyone feel awful. Routines can be the yelling antidote.

Your routines don’t have to be my routines. They don’t have to be your neighbor’s routines. They don’t have to be the PTA president’s routines. I would just recommend that they be habits that can work for your family.

Any why? What does this have to do with the years passing quickly? Well, when you have routines that are working for you and your family, it takes away some or much of the chaos. It helps everyone to calm down. It gives you more time because you are not running around looking for the other shin guard or the permission slip or the form for class picture day. And do you know what it can leave time for? Homemade Belgian waffles. Coloring. Packing lunches with an “I love you” note. Going to some of the games or ballet recitals and music concerts and scouting trips. Making memories. Holding hands. Smelling the tops of their heads. Even sweaty kids just have an irresistible smell about them. Smiling. Belly laughing. Singing off key. Making Quaker Oats containers into drums. Bike rides. Watching football. Whatever it is that creates memories with your children. Whatever it is that reminds you how very much you adore every cell of their being. Whatever it is that communicates to the child or children that my mom/dad absolutely loves me and has my back and isn’t annoyed by my existence. My mom/dad loves me no matter what. Every day. Really.

Any why do all of that? For the Hallmark moment? For the Kodak photo shoot? So you can put it on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram? Nope. Because one day, your child will make a mistake and they will need you and they will be a little nervous to even tell you that they need help. But that enormous foundation of a relationship, of trust, of love will be there, and they will call anyway and give you the opportunity to be there for them. It might not even be about them. It might be one of their friends who is in trouble. But they will be able to make that call and know that they will land safely because you are there. You are a calm, safe, and loving entity.

Another day, they will be in high school or college or beyond, and they will text you something just to make you laugh. They will call you simply to tell you a funny story. A smile. A connection.

So do you change the 4 million diapers and do the 3 million loads of laundry and make the 4000 lunches for that one phone call? No. Moment by moment you take care of them. You teach them to be self-sufficient. You love them. You laugh with them. Each moment may be excruciatingly slow and sometimes tedious. But when the moments add up to months and years, you realize that it was all so fast and you might even wish for that chubby little hand to reach up to yours again. Except when you do a double-take on that hand, it is a grown hand reaching for the car keys.

Life is like building a real house with tiny Lego pieces. It takes time and effort and creativity and a sense of humor. Enjoy the process. The process is real and it is today and it is not easy. And when that grown up child calls to make you laugh, you realize suddenly how incredibly precious it all is. Every diaper is worth it. Every lunch box. Every homework assignment. If routines make it flow better today, embrace the routines. You can go skydiving tomorrow, and the love lasts forever.


Colleen Walsh