If youth and old age could be combined into one non-contradictory person (think: Energizer Bunny with a brain, or Labrador puppy without a penchant for chewing and jumping), we would have it made. I've often wondered why it is we can't have both. Why do I have to make all the amateur mistakes now, when I've got the energy to go 70 miles per hour?
Yet somehow, with increasing smarts and wisdom (because, although I am most definitely not on the honor roll for Life Lessons Mastered 101, at least I have progressed from my 15 year-old self) comes increasing wistfulness. I first noticed this, not in myself--because who notices flaws in himself first?--but in the scores of sweet middle-aged women who ooh and aah over my baby. Every single one of them says some variation of, "Enjoy this time! It goes by so fast! It seems like mine were that age just yesterday, and now they're 27 and 31!"
To all the middle-aged mothers out there, I am trying, I promise! You tell me the days go by incredibly fast, so I am doing my very best to savor every nighttime feeding, every sleepy morning smile, and every splish-splash in the bath. But I find in myself the very real tendency to be "backwards content." I don't think this is just a mom problem, because it's not only a struggle for me with my nearly seven month old who is sitting up, waving, and eating avocado (how? how did we get here so fast?), but also in many other areas of life. High school seemed interminable until I was finished and could look back with satisfaction. Getting married would neeeeveeeerrrrrr happen until it did, and now I wonder how my single years went by so fast. My body was never quite perfect; then I had a baby and I became perfectly content with my body...the way it used to be. Somehow, being content is always easier in retrospect.
Maybe there is no cure for this. Maybe every woman everywhere will look in the mirror and criticize her appearance at the age of 20 and then long for that appearance at the age of 40. Maybe every woman everywhere will wish for a good night's sleep, or a nicer house, or a new stage of life, but when confronted with that very wished-for thing, will look back with contentment upon the interrupted nights of sleep (representing precious wee ones crying in the night), the small house (representing close proximity with loved ones), or the old stage of life (representing productivity and energy).
And then I met a woman at Wegmans (no, you don't have them on the West Coast, and yes, they're awesome) who was adoring Liam; he, in turn, was giving her priceless smiles and giggles. She repeated the exact same mantra in the exact same way. Except she kept going. After the "just yesterday" bit, she said, "My son is 14 now, but 14 is such a fun age too. I'm so proud of him, you know? It's just cool to see your children growing and learning and becoming more independent. You'll love that stage too." I admired this woman for her ability to love the past and embrace the present--a delicate balance.
I don't think the situation is hopeless. I think it is a beautiful thing to look back upon life with contentment. Hindsight is 20/20 after all. But I think it is an even more beautiful thing to embrace the here and now with vigor and delight. Maybe that's what all these older, wiser women have been trying to tell me all along.