Sixteen years ago today I was waiting to give birth to my first baby. Today, I’m waiting for that baby to take her first SATs. The words of my grandmother ring loudly in my ears, reminding me of how fast the time goes.
I always thought that was old people just complaining, whining about missed opportunities and broken promises. I wondered if they wished they had done life differently, had spent more time pushing their kids in the swing or reading them bedtime stories. I briefly considered how that would feel, and tucked it away inside that long list of things I would never do as a parent, a list carefully created over years of trying to correct other parents mistakes that ended up in my classroom.
She was probably in her eighties when I started noticing the pain in her voice as she recalled her glory days of pigtails, freshly ironed short pants and dinners around the oval oak dinner table. Most vestiges of her children were long ago relics of days she cherished, only the occasional tear in her eye as evidence of when she felt truly happy.
Sixteen years ago, I was not thinking of the memories that would be building from the moment she was born; I was thinking of how strong I could be to make it through the labor, and not much else. I worried about how life would change and could I do all the right mommy moves to make sure she was safe, nourished, and nurtured. Never did I think this far into the future that she would be walking out of my car and working towards leaving me.
As I sit here, watching car after car pull in, I tense as the clock ticks towards the starting time. Kids continue to pour in even after they have no hope of admission through the testing door. I watch them come back, rejected, and notice a mom not willing to take no for an answer. Her son protests as she resolutely marches him back in, determined to give him another chance. Minutes later when she returns alone, I see love etched into every fiber of her face; the kind of strength it sometimes takes to be a parent.
Sixteen years ago, I had no idea what it would take to be a parent. I knew it was something I wanted for my life, not understanding the determination, dedication and sheer will it would take. I didn’t understand why it would be so hard to watch her ride off on her bike alone, to let go of her hand at the corner of the school building, or let her take over the car steering wheel. I did not imagine the pain of watching her cry or struggle through friendships that had ended or defeats on the ski hill. I didn’t comprehend the many, many hours I would lose sleep to hold her tight, rock her gently, or support her through the different phases of growing up.
Sixteen years ago I never imagined the tests my baby would put me through, or how she would help me grow into a better human. When she walks back to me today I will welcome her with the swirls of my grandmother’s voice running through my head, and realize that what she said really is true: they do grow up so fast, and the years pass by far too quickly. I will lock this memory into my mind, knowing all too well that when she finishes this test, another will present itself, challenging me to dig deep and take it on.