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The days are long; the years are short

There’s a shift going on at our house. I started noticing it a few months ago, but now there’s no denying it.

For starters, my new favorite sweatshirt — the one I throw on when I want something big and comfy to wear on a Friday afternoon — belongs to my 12-year-old son. Also, the shoes tossed willy-nilly around the entryway? The ones I slip on when I need to run to the mailbox or pick up a gallon of milk at Kwik Trip? They’re his, too. What’s more, they’re big on me. (They’re also the reason I’ve been known to tromp around Hy-Vee in snowboard boots even though, I assure you, I’m no snowboarder.)

For three days in a row last week, my 9-year-old made himself a scrambled egg with toast for breakfast. By himself.

Yesterday afternoon, shortly after I got home from work, my 12-year-old headed out to babysit. By himself.

How is this my family?


I’m reminded of a phrase I often repeated when my boys were infants. A phrase designed to get me through those tough, up-all-night baby years: "The days are long; the years are short."

Holy Hannah, are they ever.

I remember so clearly entire afternoons spent rocking a crying baby and wondering if I’d never get my old life back — that life that included adult conversation and leisurely dinners and the freedom (oh, the freedom!) to follow my ambitions.

But babies don’t care much about that great essay idea you have, and as far as I can tell, they think adult conversation is a colossal bore. They want to cuddle and eat and rock entire afternoons away. It is a great thing to be needed — to be wanted — in this way. But it can also be exhausting. I wondered when I’d ever get to do my own thing again. It felt like that day would never come.

And then it did.

This morning, as my 9-year-old poured himself his own bowl of cereal and sat down at the table to read the comics, I laid groggily in bed and thought about what it was like when he was just a couple weeks old. How I’d lie on this same mattress with his seven-pound body — all of it, heart, lungs, arms, legs in one tiny little package — curled up on my chest, his head just below my chin. How we’d fall asleep together to the rhythm of his breathing, his tiny sighs, his sweet-cream smell.

That same kiddo was just a few months old when we ventured "up north" for a family reunion. The wife of a second cousin asked if she could hold my son. He was wearing the cutest little yellow outfit with matching socks. I would’ve begged to hold him, too.

Anyway. This cousin’s wife held my baby. She smelled the top of his head. She uncurled his hands and commented on his tiny fingernails. She stared at his long lashes. And then she started to cry.


We laughed at her, my mother, my sisters and I. We laughed at this relative we only saw once every year or three. "Look at you, crying at the baby!" we said. "Ha, ha, ha!"

"I don’t have babies anymore," she said, her eyes still wet. "Mine all grew up."

Here’s the thing: I’m not laughing anymore. I totally get it now. Yes, I’m still needed around my house. (Someone’s got to drive to tennis practice, right?) But it’s not in the same way it used to be. My kids are becoming increasingly self-sufficient. I have more time than I’ve had in a decade to do the things I want to do — whether it’s write a column or enjoy dinner out with friends.

Yet, I’m about three years away from becoming a teary-eyed second cousin-in-law. I can feel it coming. It’s about three more shoe sizes, one cheese omelet, and one too-big sweatshirt away.

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