I thought I was prepared. I really did. Ever since the end of the summer, when someone asked me how old she was I’d say: “going on four”. So I was really caught off guard.

There were other birthdays that really seemed like milestones. I remember when my daughter was in her first month of life someone made reference to her first birthday. I laughed inside; she’s wasn’t ever going to have a first birthday! She was going to be small and cuddly and beautiful forever! What an absurd idea that she would grow up and have birthdays. I now objectively understand that this is part of the brain chemistry and psychology that allows a newborn and caregivers to bond and exist through this fourth trimester. Yet the subjective experience of it was so real at the time.

The second birthday seemed to come upon me quickly. I guess that first year has so many changes and adjustments it can seem like a long time. As I settled into a flow and enjoyed my darling toddler, the summer approached and with it her little friends’ invitations to second birthday celebrations began. Whoa! Slow down! Two? Where did that come from? Can everyone just stop growing for a minute so I can catch up?

Mixed memories

I remember hearing a quote that the days are long and the years are short. I think this is such a good description about childhood. The moments when I wonder just how long it will be until my husband walks back in the door from work and how I’ll make it through those next 45 minutes. Thinking that maybe I’ll put her in the tub again to get through the afternoon, although that’s how we spent the morning. Driving and driving and driving and praying and praying and praying that the nap will happen. My heart sinking when another mom calls to say she won’t be coming over with her little one to play, while I wonder how on earth we’ll spend the afternoon now.

I remember planning a trip to the mall with a friend who has three children who were under the age of three at the time. Two of them are twins three months older than my daughter. It was March. And the weather on the day in question was quite horrid. Freezing rain and wind if I remember correctly. It was a Thursday. I called her to ask if she still wanted to go. She laughed at me incredulously. Of course we were! An outing? Out of the house? With real live people? You bet we were going out! Unless the mall had burned down… no? It hadn’t? Then, yes! We are going out! I think we even changed out of our pyjamas, had showers and put on make up. Well, maybe not make up. Let’s not get crazy. But you get the idea.

…there will always be another thing to do. But we’ll only have today together. We only get to raise our children once.

But these are the very moments of our children’s childhoods. The moments on the floor with the blocks surrounded by dirty laundry. The dripping paint that stays on the floor until the next time the floor gets washed, which in my house might be sometime this spring. Reading the same book for the one hundred and ninety seventh time may make me want to pull my hair out. But she will not remember the dirty laundry or floor or dishes. She will remember how much she loved that book and painting. And that every time she cried out in the night, I was there. This creates the safety and security our children need to grow and move out into the world.

Which is what I remind myself at 5:30am.

We only get to raise our children once

One morning I was particularly cranky and tired and so was my little darling. When we got to pre-school she stepped in front of me so I couldn’t take another step without tripping over her, and asked me to come up. She’s “almost four”! And we’re late! I took a deep sigh. Do I really have to carry her in every day? Will I be doing this forever?! But of course I won’t. The dirty fingerprints on the walls get higher and higher until they disappear. So I picked her up. She curled her little fingers around the back of my neck and I could smell her sweet breath. And I walked really, really slowly into pre-school that day.

I may not be good at it, but I pledge to look around for these moments more. To stop and just be with her instead of rushing to the next thing. Because there will always be another thing to do. But we’ll only have today together. We only get to raise our children once.

Fast forward to her fourth birthday. She has a little friend we met at the breastfeeding group who is about 30 hours older than she is. They have literally been friends their whole lives. We are going to the friend’s swimming party and are walking down the hall together to the change room when they take each other’s hands.

“We’re four, aren’t we!” my daughter says with joy.

“Yeah! We’re four!” her friend responds with pride.

My heart breaks and rejoices simultaneously. And from what I understand, I’d better get used to that.