The most trite thing you can say to a new parent is “Enjoy this time, because it will be over before you know it.”
And, yes, looking back on the first two and a half years since we welcomed our eldest daughter to our family, time has passed in a blink of an eye. But so did my two and a half years running a nonprofit movie theater, and no one told me to enjoy that quite wonderful time in my life.
Listen: time goes fast. For parents and non-parents alike. What has struck me most, though, is that when measured day-to-day, hour-to-hour, and minute-to-minute, nothing actually slows down time more than parenting young children. (And I don’t just mean that ten minutes trying to comfort a crying infant feels like an eternity, although it absolutely does.)
Both my children were bottle-fed, and it lead to a certain equity in division of labor for the night feedings. My wife handled feedings starting at midnight and I took over at four o’clock in the morning. It gave us each a few solid hours of uninterrupted sleep when we were each at our (relative) best.
After many of those early morning feedings I was able to get back to sleep, but there were plenty of times when I stayed awake, rocking a baby with one hand and browsing Twitter with the other. Sometimes, even after successfully getting a baby back to sleep, I had enough energy to put the coffee on and get in ninety minutes of uninterrupted writing before dawn—I wrote most of a novel that way in 2012.
After early mornings like that, I would often notice later in the day that it was “only” ten o’clock. I wasn’t used to the feeling that I felt like I’d been up forever and it was only mid-morning. I’m used to days going by faster and faster—those early mornings with my kids slowed them down.
These days, my eldest is in motion non-stop. We play games where I didn’t know there could be games. Like both burying our heads in the bed for a few seconds and then looking at each other and laughing. Or her climbing onto my chest and then jumping off while I hold her hands in a barely-controlled descent.
Over and over.
There’s no other activity that can consume my attention and my time more than being a human jungle gym. And there are no notifications from a device to pull me out of the flow.
It’s parenting that has helped me realize just how much time I spend staring at what The Onion called “glowing rectangles”—my phone, computer, iPad, and television—instead of enjoying this great life. It’s parenting that has gotten me out the door bright and early on a weekend instead of sleeping in, and that has gotten me to the park nearly every day.
And it’s parenting that has inspired me to start keeping a journal of the day’s activities, even if it is just on my phone using the Day One app. It feels odd to journal about the silly games I make up with my kids or about every trip to the park. But I do it because the trite advice new parents hear is, unfortunately, true. Things go by too fast. Early on, my kids’ lives were progressing so quickly it felt like they would skip crawling and go right to driving.
Things change. It’s parenting that has made me appreciate being in the moment more than anything else.