I’ve always been a sentimental person. As a child, I saved every ticket stub, photograph, and scrap of paper my loved ones had scribbled on. In high school and college, I made collages for family and friends every chance I got. I’m a scrapbooker, a hugger, and a crier.
But now that I’m a mom things have really kicked into high gear. Tracking my growing belly with carefully captioned photos and preparing for the arrival of my first daughter five years ago was special and fun. Yet nothing compared to the feelings that welled up from deep within when I first saw her in the flesh. I’ll never forget my jaw dropping as I turned to my husband in wonder and declared, “Oh my God! We have a baby.”
All those months, and heck, all my life really — preparing for motherhood couldn’t have offered a clue as to how I would feel about my children once I met them face-to-face. Everything about them was perfect, every milestone a weepy mix of pride and sadness. I coveted that newborn smell and the way the little legs bend, frog-like, for the first several weeks of life. I documented every day. The hard and the good; the first giggles and the first pigtails; the first day of preschool and vignettes in every corner of their little bedrooms.
Collecting moments with my children has become somewhat of a full-time job, if I’m being honest. And one that strikes right through the heart. Because as much as I love watching them grow and develop into their own amazing little people, sometimes this whole mothering young children gig feels like one slow, rolling ride toward the ultimate sadness: the day they move out and leave me.
Those mamas who celebrate each milestone with triumph and are glad to see the bus drive off in the distance on the first day of each school year might not get it. But I know there are more sentimental, weepy mamas like me out there, and this one’s for you. While tears are cathartic and we all deserve a good mope from time to time, I’ve found some constructive ways to channel these mixed emotions and turn the heartache of babyhood lost into treasures that will be enjoyed again and again throughout the years.
Write it Down
Journaling has always been a passion of mine, but as a professional writer sometimes I feel “worded-out” at the end of the day. Whether you commit to an actual journal or just jot down notes, ticking off a list of what the kids are up to helps me feel more in control and less like the moments are slipping by.
I keep a running note in my phone on each kid to help me remember what should go in my journal at the end of the month or whenever I get a chance to do it. I also write them a letter on the eve of their birthdays and at random other times throughout the year. Not only does it help me work through the complicated feelings over watching them grow; I know I’m making a record they’ll enjoy looking back at later.
Take Videos – Not Just Pictures!
Every mom I know has several thousand photos in her phone, but videos really say it all. Don’t stop taking photos – ever! – but make sure to shoot short videos of the small moments that might not feel monumental now, because they sure will later. I gasped the other day when coming across a video of my then-ten-month-old doing her little lobster crawl. In the background I’m saying, “I never want to forget how you crawl!” and what’s funny is, I totally had forgotten. The video, clearly, is priceless.
Just make sure you’re backing up to the Cloud, because chances are you don’t have a ton of time to put them all together in one cumulative film right now. When they’ve moved out, you will though! (If you’re up to the task now, try putting together a movie every six-to-twelve months from the recent highlights. iMovie and ShotCut are great options).
You’ll never regret making everyday occasions feel special, and for some reason breaking out a few balloons and a treat for my kids on a random Wednesday is a reminder to us all to slow down. I go overboard at the holidays (even Valentine’s Day, for goodness sake), but one of my favorite random moment-markers was when my eldest turned 16 months old. I threw her a tiny “Sweet Sixteen” for just us two that day with cupcakes and balloons. Her delight when she woke up from her nap was palpable.
Big birthdays and Christmas mornings and all of that is a given, but when you slow down to focus on the smaller accomplishments, the sleepovers in Mom’s bed for no reason or the dinner-dates with Dad just because, that’s when you feel like you’re living your life with the kids and not just watching it fly by.
Put Your Phone Down
Taking lots of photos and notes can also mean spending too much time on the phone. Smart phones are great… until they’re not. I make it a point to leave mine in the kitchen or an upstairs bathroom in the afternoons when my girls and I are just hanging out and playing or making art. You can always go grab it to snap the picture later; but being in the moment now helps alleviate my guilt over the other times that I’m busy and can’t just soak in the time with the kids — like when I’m doing laundry, fixing dinner, and so on.
Scrapbook As You Go
I used to keep huge bins of scrapbook paraphernalia and then become paralyzed with dread whenever I sat down to actually work on them. Now, I’ve discovered that keeping everything in a box or binder as we navigate the school year and other blocks of time is helpful. Once the vessel is full and I find myself with a light Saturday or slow evening, I can start gluing things into the pages of a book. I let the kids do a lot of the coloring and sticker-adding now, which is not only less work for me but also a nice marker of their growth.
I even bring a folder for “scrapbook stuff” when we go on vacation so that I don’t have to spend weeks after we get home looking through drawers, closets, and cars for every scrap of keep-worthy paper. Then once the trip is over, it goes right into a photo album or small book for safekeeping. No more bins in every closet of the house! And this allows more time to actually look through and enjoy the books.
Save (Only) What’s Special
Speaking of scrapbooking, keeping too much can get you in trouble. Watching them grow is hard, but sell or donate the clothes you don’t absolutely need to keep for future children or for posterity, and help cut down on landfill waste and fast fashion production in the process. Shadowboxes are a darling way to preserve heirloom clothing, and keeping a few bins worth instead of the entirety will help make room for new stuff — and the associated memories — in the process.
When it comes to art projects, you are not mandated by the laws of motherhood to save every single piece of paper or cardboard touched by their tiny hands. Snap pictures of the decent stuff and recycle what you can of it; hold onto only the best ones and put those in your binder or box mentioned above.
No, seriously. Get your fix and help out a tired new mom in the process by offering to babysit a friend or family member’s little one for a few hours so she can get some me-time in. The snuggles, the peacefulness, the… dirty diapers. It’ll all bring you right back! As much as I love holding other people’s newborns, nothing compares to getting home afterward and seeing my strong, sweet, big children running into my waiting arms.
Call Your Parents
As much as you are dreading the day your little ones depart, imagine how Mom and Dad must feel about you. Channel all those feelings of longing and pre-emptive sadness into at least a weekly call home and ask them what they’re up to. Really listen. Remember that as much as you love your little ones at home, your parents won’t be around forever and they need your attention as much as you need that of your own tiny brood.
Find a Hobby
Yup, it’s true: taking care of yourself and finding the pieces of your soul that have been in hiding while you’re at home taking care of young children? Turns out it’s very important. Mine are yoga and reading: what about you? If you laughed or changed the subject the last time someone asked you what you do with your “free time,” it’s probably something you need to start thinking about.
It might sound counterintuitive, right? How does spending more time on your passions and less with your kids make the sentimental, weepy stuff better? What it does is help you relieve stress and feel more confident as an overall person. So when you’re at home with the littles, you’re feeling more generally fulfilled and less likely to wish the hours away even as they tick by. And your hobby will also remind you that, as much as you loved them little, you’ll still have a life after they’ve grown up and moved away.
Now, doesn’t that make you feel a bit better?