I had a sense of deja vu as I pulled into the parking lot of the indoor playground. Rows and rows of minivans lined the spaces with a few SUV’s thrown in for good measure. I parked in the last remaining spot, cursing the rain and the distance to the entry. I unbuckled my preschooler from his seat and made a dash for the building, getting drenched in the process.
As soon as I opened the door, a dizzying cacophony of sound assaulted my senses. Kids shrieking, babies crying, little feet running, moms calling to their children and Disney music pumping.
I stood in the entryway like a drowned rat, bewildered at the scene.
The girl at the desk noticed my uncertainty and pertly asked if we had been here before.
I paused. Me? Yes. Many times with my oldest when she was younger. But it dawned on me that our last visit was at my middle child’s first birthday, eight years ago. I looked down at the preschooler in my arms, surprised to realize he had never been to this play gym … which was once a standard stop on my mommy rotation.
While I fumbled through the waiver, my son assessed the gym with wide-eyed wonder. It was a preschooler’s dream. Ropes, slides, tunnels and climbing equipment snaked across the space. He ripped off his tennies and scampered off to play.
I picked my way through the gaggle of kids running around and slid into an empty seat, surveying the gym with a mixture of apprehension and awe.
Aside from it raining kids in the joint, there were moms everywhere. Cute mamas with babies strapped to themselves in all manner of baby-wearing gear, young Lululemon-clad moms smiling and waving as they sipped their Starbucks and groups of chic moms sitting in a conspiratorial circle, absent-mindedly tending kids while they laughed in easy camaraderie.
In that moment I was acutely aware of the fact that I am getting older and the other moms are getting younger. (And more stylish – but that’s a topic for another day.)
It struck me that normal for many of these moms is now my novelty. Because while this was once my scene, I don’t do many play dates or meet-ups anymore. In fact, I all but abandoned play gyms and tiny kid activities after baby number three.
I let my mind drift back to when I was a younger mom. Baby on my hip, toddler wrapped around my ankle, and a preschooler calling for me to watch her courageous descent from a slide.
How did that season slip away without my notice?
I felt suddenly like I didn’t belong here anymore. In a world of toddlers and preschoolers and babies.
Nowadays I am mostly called mom, not mommy. I am navigating mascara and heel height for my teen while looking into driver’s ed classes. I am making sense of high school graduation requirements and downloading bibliography-generating apps for middle school research papers. I’m cheering at swim meets and dropping kids off at youth events.
And yet, I still have a preschooler. There he was shrieking with laughter, running to me for kisses and cuddles when he got hurt and calling to me to watch him swing from the rope. Still little. So so little. Still needing his mommy, not his mom.
When I was a new mom, I remember inwardly rolling my eyes when experienced moms wistfully advised me to enjoy the baby and toddler years. I suspected back then that I wouldn’t miss tantrums, food fights and screaming babies. And I was right. I don’t miss any of that.
I don’t even miss spending afternoons with shrieking kids at indoor playgrounds.
But entering back into an environment saturated with babies and preschoolers offered me a sharp picture of the contrast between parenting older and younger kids. It reminded me that my little buddy, currently squealing with delight as he sailed down the slides, will soon be driving and planning for his graduation. And each day with him at this age is a gift not to be taken for granted.
I want to be present and enjoy this amazing little guy who so easily gets dragged along to just big kid and teen activities. I want to read the one more story, say yes to five more minutes of cuddles and maybe even visit some more activity centers.
Everything those experienced moms said is true. I know this because I AM an experienced mom. And it knocks the wind out of you when you realize how truly fast the years fly by.
And here’s the rub: kids aren’t the only ones who grow up. Someday it will be you staring your early mama years in the face. And you will marvel at how your role has changed, how your normal has changed, and how you have changed, too.
So pardon me for saying what has already been said a million times: Somewhere in the midst of the chaos and frenzy that is parenting, slow down and savor each wonderful, unique stage … from the preschool giggles to the teenage negotiations.
Not just for your kids’ sake, but for yours.