Everyone prepares you for the feelings that accompany your child’s first birthday, but no one prepares you for the emotional tidal wave that hits on their second. Or at least no one warned me.
My daughter turned two on Friday, and amidst the celebrations and fanfare, I found myself in tears nearly every day leading up to her actual birthday. I don’t remember feeling this way when she turned one. When we made it to her first birthday, I truly celebrated not only her first year of life, but my first year of motherhood. We each accomplished so many milestones—one year of breastfeeding, one year of sleepless nights, one year of learning about each other and our new dynamic as a family of three. The first smile, the first laugh; her first steps and first words. So many firsts, so many mile markers to commemorate the time.
The first year set the benchmark for who she was, but the second year made me realize how quickly she is changing. I was not prepared for how year two would bring such an awareness of the passing of time. I’ve always recoiled from phrases like “please stop growing” or “time is a thief.” Watching my child grow up is a privilege and a joy, and each day I marvel as she grows into the person God created her to be. I want her to continue changing and learning. I want her to spread her wings and fly, but I don’t want to forget who she is today.
I want to remember every minute detail.
I never want to forget how she used to call herself “Bagel” before she could say “Campbell.” I never want to forget how she sat in my lap and let me read book after book while she sipped milk after her nap. So I frantically jot down every funny phrase she says or cute moment we share. I turn on my camera every time she starts dancing or playing dress up. I am frenetic in my attempt to capture each specific aspect of who she is today because I feel the memories slipping away as they are happening. And that is what guts me about her growing up.
Despite considering myself a realist in almost every sense of the word, ever since becoming a mother, I’ve longed for the existence of parallel universes—this one where I continue living my life as it’s currently unfolding, but also universes where I live out different versions or stages of my life in perpetuity. A world where I go about my days as carefree as I did before having kids. A world where I continue working while raising children. And a world where I freeze time at every age my daughter has been and will be and live in each moment forever. I don’t wish for time to stop moving; I wish for it to move on while also standing still.
But despite my deepest desires, parallel universes don’t exist. Time marches on, and we don’t get these moments back. If I dwell on this reality for too long, it’s enough to undo me. So I dare myself to stay present right here, in this moment. Not desperately trying to remember the past and not preemptively trying to mitigate the future. Right here, in the middle of nap times and chicken nuggets and Curious George and tutus.
It’s all too easy for me to feel melancholy about how fleeting the present is or become paralyzed as I deliberate the best way to capture the memories as they’re happening, but both options rob joy from right now. When my daughter looks back on her childhood, I don’t want her to remember a mom who was so busy trying to preserve the moment, she forgot to live in it. I want her to remember a mom who was present and celebrated every new stage as it came. A mom who was enthusiastic about whatever excited her and pivoted whenever it was time for the next stage. A mom who did her best to remember but didn’t obsess over what had passed. A mom who was thankful for where she was, where she had been, and where she would go.
So I’ll take the pictures and write down the memories and ask for enough grace for today, knowing my efforts will never be enough. I may not be able to preserve everything, but if I’ve learned anything these last two years, the best moment is the one I’m living.
Kelsey Aldinger lives outside of Fort Worth, Texas, with her husband Luke and daughter Campbell. When she’s not chasing her toddler around, she can be found creating something with words or food. Kelsey has a passion for hospitality, whether it’s around a table or through her writing, and her hope is to leave women feeling less alone and more seen because of her work. She writes here.