Last night, I found myself in the middle of a familiar scene: mid-dinner prep, hands covered in raw chicken guts, balancing the phone between my ear and shoulder as my husband filled my overcrowded brain with snippets from his day. It was one of many similar nights where I attempted to get a meal onto the stove or into the oven before my toddler dismantled the house, dangerous item by dangerous item. “I have to hang up with you now,” I snapped at Adam impatiently, as I watched my son grab a full cruet of just-mixed Italian dressing from the open pantry and toss it casually to the floor where it pooled at his pajamed feet. “I’ll see you when you get home.”
I sighed heavily and punched the “end” button, trying to avoid contaminating the screen with a fresh layer of salmonella. The onions simmering on the stove would scorch in minutes if I didn’t get the coconut milk into the pot post-haste; the still-whole bell peppers sat on the cutting board waiting for their turn to join the mix. In that moment, I felt overwhelmed and impatient, annoyed at the expanding oil slick on the already-filthy kitchen floor, irritated with my husband for not being home by now.
I turned back from wiping my hands on what was left of the roll of paper towels and paused, really taking in the sight of my son. All 31 ½ inches of him, shoulders barely clearing the first pantry shelf. His back was to me and he was busy hefting a bag of all-purpose flour onto the floor, happily immersed in his own world. I don’t know why that moment, but right then, it felt like time just slowed, the way it does in really bad horror movies just before the girl opens the door with the killer behind it. For the first time all day, I was acutely aware of my son.
As I stood there, knife poised above a freshly washed pepper, I came to a sobering realization: these days of just us are numbered; we are on a time-clock that is quickly ticking down. In a matter of months, he will have to share me and I, him. It’s something I’ve thought about offhandedly a few times—about how tiring it will be to chase after a mischievous toddler while nursing a new baby, how daunting the logistics of leaving the house will suddenly become—but never the actuality of our twosome coming to a fast end.
It felt like someone socked me over the head with a bag of bricks. Why haven’t I been paying more attention? Why did I never realize that the pregnancy tracker that counts down the days till my son’s arrival also spells out the number of moments I have left savoring my other son? Why haven’t I stopped to smell his hair more or press my nose into that sweet spot where his neck meets his shoulders? Why have I been wishing time would speed up instead of slow down?
Since that moment, I’ve been rewinding the recent months, searching for where I went wrong. When did I stop really seeing my firstborn amidst the haze of too many obligations? Why have I let the artificial glow of a smart phone or a computer screen lure me away from the realest, truest thing that is happening in my life? And how do I get that time back now?
I know the answer is that I can’t. I’ve lost more than one chance to hear my son’s belly laugh when he throws the blanket off his head during peekaboo simply because I was too busy scrolling through my Instagram feed; I’ve missed opportunities to sit with him while he eats his lunch so I can vacuum the floor or wash a load of dishes. I’ve gotten my priorities completely wrong and soon, he will fall by the wayside again as I learn to parent two little boys. The moments I can devote solely to him are fast disappearing.
But I’ve still got a little time. 121 more days, to be exact. It doesn’t feel like nearly enough, but it’s something. And I’m making a promise to my son that I’m not going to waste it—not with obligations, not with distractions and white noise, not with things that are far less important.
Instead, I will bring him to the places he loves to go—the children’s museum, the zoo, the library— rather than the places I always think I need to be. I will sing Patty Cake thirty times in a row just to see him clap his hands in delight. I will turn off my phone and realize that a Facebook status can wait, but my son cannot. There are just simply not enough days to waste. The season of savoring starts today.