When my 4-year–old daughter Maia wants something very badly and very quickly, she insists “it’s either now . . . or tomorrow.” Because her demands are easy enough (it’s almost always a book or an apple she’s desperate for) I tend to say, “Ok now.” And laugh. Because “now . . . or tomorrow”? Despite a dramatic delivery, she’s not very good at making demands.
But today I realized that what she means is “now or never.” For a 4-year-old, tomorrow probably seems almost as far away as never. I remember that once, waiting seemed to take a long time. I’m not recalling my childhood. I’m remembering, well, how time moved before I had children. Waiting for someone to call, waiting for a conversation to be over, for summer travels to begin, for a kiss, for an acceptance letter, for a rejection, for the show to start, for my hair to grow out of an impulsively short cut, for a class to finally end, for the food to make it to the table – waiting, in its sundry variations, seemed to suspend time.
Now that I have children, the clichés come true. Life happens too quickly. Sometimes I ache for it to slow down.
When Maia was born, I held her and stared. And stared. And stared. Having children is at once almost trivially ordinary and at the same time almost inconceivably special. Many, many people have long had and will continue to have many, many babies. But when I gave birth, a part of me really expected the world to stop while I stared in wonder at my child.
When the world didn’t stop spinning, I tried to pace it. I ignored that irritatingly ubiquitous advice: I didn’t sleep when the baby did. I watched her while she slept in her crib. When I could bear to put her down. I often held my peacefully sleeping child through late nights and early mornings, watching her breathe, memorizing her delicate face, holding her perfect hands. I needed all of the time I could get.
Motherhood catapulted me into an utter infatuation with my children and with my relationship to them. It’s an adoration that almost overwhelms me. It makes sense that if one concept (love) has gone hyperbolic on me, others (like time) might as well.
I should suspect my own middle age here, too. More than midway through life’s journey, I’ve less to anticipate. Of course it seems to go too fast. Of course I feel like I need more time.
But I think it’s less about years, more about intensity. Children remind us in endearing and sometimes disconcerting ways that we’re not as young as we once were. Time has changed because we have. Maia’s frustration with waiting reminds me that I no longer wait. Instead, I want the world to wait for me.
I look at my daughters’ smoothly dimpled hands, their wonderfully curious eyes, those delighted smiles all for me. And then look at myself next to them: hands more seasoned than smooth, curiosity tinged with skepticism, smiles punctuated with concerns. While I, too, was once new, I’m weathered now. Motherhood might be the first time I’ve noticed. I’ve been left out in the elements long enough to change color, left to the world’s forces long enough to change shape. And once day, I’ll have no more color, no more shape. Either now or tomorrow, it’s about love and mortality.