As a parent, I’ve made so many mistakes that it’s difficult to keep track. I over-promised and under-delivered, sent school forms in late and never, ever did the school trip thing, let alone cook organic meals, assemble two dozen spiders out of oreos and pretzels or organize playgroups like the moms profiled in Good Enough Is the New Perfect (no wonder they’re so stressed out – I never even realized quite how imperfect I was until I read that book). Heck, if my daughters were my clients, they’d have fired me long ago.
But one thing that I did right — and never realized til now — is that I never counted. I never counted the number of diapers I changed in a day or how many books we read together at bedtime or how many videos I let my daughters watch during long car trips or long conference calls. I never counted how many nights I stumbled groggily into their room to nurse them at night, or how many minutes I spent rocking them before they fell asleep or how many more years until I was no longer hostage to a 4 pm bus stop pick up. I never counted the time towards when I’d have more because I knew that eventually, instead of counting up, I’d be counting down. Counting down towards the day where my daughters no longer want to share with me everything that they did in school, or where their friends’ opinion matters more than mine or where their problems exceed my capacity to help solve them. Or where they leave home first for college and then for good.
Each last week in August flies by as I’m caught up in the flurry of traditions that accompany my daughters’ first day of school. The school-supply shopping. The new outfit and haircut. The first-day-of-school photo (depicted here) that they still begrudgingly indulge me, before they hop on the bike (older) or bus (younger), eager to get to school for the new year and the fresh start that lays bright and shiny before them. And each year, after they’re gone, though I’m anxious to get to my desk and resume work uninterrupted, I always linger a little longer — watching first, the nervous pre-schooler or the giddy kindergartner and now, the seventh grader on the yellow school bus and the sophomore on the bicycle race away. Because one of these days they won’t be coming back. I just never counted on it being so soon.