Make the most of it they say. They grow up fast. This time will soon be a distant memory. And yes, I know what they mean, and I know they mean well. I find myself looking at photographs of our baby from twelve months ago, unable to believe how much has changed. It’s a fact: my child is no longer a baby. He doesn’t fit in the carrier anymore. When he sees me put my shoes on for work, he doesn’t get sad. No, he points and says “ca-ja”, so that I don’t forget my coat. He still needs me and his dad, but less so and differently. Believe me, I know that time goes fast.
However, I am always reminded of an acquaintance of mine who asked me, when my son was only a few months old, if I got irritated by people commenting on how fast the time goes. She joked that there were plenty of days when hers were babies that could have gone faster. That comment was a breath of fresh air. Because, like every stage of life, the reality is that there are parts that there’s no making the most of. There is nothing enjoyable about nappies, for example. In my son’s memory box, there won’t be pictures of me or my husband at 4 am, wandering around the flat, humming softly while our insides scream with tiredness.
It doesn’t matter what stage you’re at in your time on this Earth, the make the most of it mantra fails to consider the nuances of living. It sells happiness as a choice, but I am not buying it.
It’s not just parenting either. There are lots of times we are told to embrace the moment when it’s not that easy. Take university, the freedom and possibility is a double-edged sword; it’s a wonderful time of chance, but also a time when the future is unsure and daunting. I will always be grateful for that time. I recognise it was a privilege. But it was a lonely time. It was a scary time.
Now I am safely in my thirties, I see young couples, and I too think: enjoy this time, this freedom, this youth whilst knowing it is not that easy. I have no idea what challenges they face, despite their apparent lack of responsibilities and carefree smiles. They could be without a job, living through an illness in the family, wanting marriage or a family of their own and unable for whatever reason. We are all masters at hiding what is going on behind our eyes.
Yet, I can’t dismiss the call to embrace the positives and look on the bright side. However, I think it is something we have to learn. We have to be guided by experience to really see what matters and what is worth making the most of. Otherwise, we just end up feeling guilty for not being happier. (Telling a new parent, on their knees with tiredness and questioning every decision that they should cherish every moment is only going to make them feel worse, believe me.)
In the end, I have learned that it comes down to treasuring what matters: the “adventures” my son and I go on; the comedy-drama that is lunchtime, sharing beans on toast followed by bananas and peanut butter: or the quiet moments, when it is me and my yoga mat, my book or my absolutely-the-last coffee of the day. In doing so, I build up my resilience for the harder times. The times when I am tired and frustrated and feel like I am failing. The times when I am pulled one way by work and another by family.
Oh yes, I am treasuring this time. I am making the most of these freely-given cuddles. I am aware of the privilege it is to watch him grown up. Already too many things are a distant memory. But I won’t feel bad for feeling bad sometimes. I won’t feel bad for finding parenting hard or frustrating. And I say the same to you, in whatever “make the most of it” phase you find yourself. Make the most of the times that are worth making something of. Appreciate what you have and forgive yourself when you don’t feel like making something of everything.