Seemingly innocuous expressions such as, “savor every moment,” “they won’t be this little for long,” and “the days are long but the years are short,” proliferated in my feeds. But to my postpartum mind, they carried an ominous subtext — that the best time of parenting is when kids are very young and it will all be gone in a flash, so you’d better make the most of every second or else face a lifetime of regret.
I fell into a sort of anticipatory nostalgia and mourning. A panicked need to hold onto the fleeting moments of my son’s ever-changing life consumed me and I over-documented with photos, videos, and detailed missives. Looking back now, I see that this went way beyond being a proud parent. My behavior had two key motivators: fear and guilt. Fear, because I couldn’t possibly capture all the moments before they disappeared forever. Guilt, because in addition to the “inspirational” mommy posts in my news feed, I was also viewing a steady, picture-perfect montage of all the creative, exciting, and magical experiences my friends were having with their kids.
During a time when just making it through the day often felt like a big achievement for me, I started to feel like I was falling short of expectations. Stealthy whispers, accusations of “not enough” began to needle their way into my mind: during the lonely darkness of night (of course), but also during the milestone moments of first steps, first words, and first kisses.
It didn’t occur to me then that a social media feed is a construct, or rather, a train of constructs. When we post it’s all about making life seem a certain way, even though the reality beyond the Instagram frames of smiling faces and spectacular activities might be much different. As viewers, we see what people want us to see. The glaring personal irony of this whole situation is that while I was so focused on creating and saving moments (and at the same time mourning and feeling insecure about them), I wasn’t, in fact, savoring much of anything.
Close to my son’s second birthday, I gave myself a shake. My hard drive ran out of space, and you can guess what it was full of. When I looked back through the myriad photos and videos of my son’s first two years, I discovered there were many moments I didn’t actually remember because I had been so busy focusing on getting a good shot, or capturing a perfect expression. The knife twisted even more when I observed that I was only in a handful of the photos — during those important times, I was behind a camera instead of beside my son. Now that is something to mourn.
Fortunately, I’ve been able to step out of this cycle of fear/anxiety, guilt, and mourning. I’ve learned to accept that children do not require intricately planned, continuously exciting activities to make their childhoods memorable. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I take my son out into nature, or invite him into the kitchen and we spend time together, doing whatever it is we happen to be doing. Of course we occasionally have special outings like farm visits or water parks, but the key is that we cherish each other’s company, wherever we are, even if our activities aren’t particularly Pinterest-worthy.
My son is growing. He is getting older, just as we all do. Instead of mourning the fact that I can barely carry him around anymore (40 pounds — oof), or pre-mourning that one day he won’t so readily encircle me with his chubby little t-shirt-tanned arms, I’m doing my best to soak it all in and appreciate him just as he is each day. Recognizing the joy and pride in his eyes when he makes a new advance or declares, “Mama, I grew again!” reminds me that changes and growth should be celebrated. And the beauty of constant change is that there is always something new to celebrate!
I’m getting better at leaving my phone in my pocket, realizing that, instead of 20 photos of my son splashing in the rising tide at the beach, one or two will suffice; my time is much better spent kicking off my shoes and joining him. I hear the music of his laughter, see the sparkle of the sun on the water drops, feel the contrast of the warm breeze with the cool water and the way his wet little hand slips into mine, smell the rotting seaweed (hey, it’s all part of the experience), and taste the salt on my tongue.
Mindfully doing this has helped me understand that when you truly savor a moment in this way, when you drink it in and let it infuse all of your senses, there is no need to save it — it’s become a part of you.
Kelly McQuillan lives on Vancouver Island, where she juggles freelance writing with teaching piano and simultaneously parenting a preschooler and a teenager. She runs on caffeine and chocolate.