April 5, 2019

From Summer #21 as a Mom, the First 18 Sure Don't Feel Like They Were All I Got

My firstborn—the baby who made me a mom to begin with—is 20 years old. She's just finishing up her sophomore year of college and then will head home for the summer. Her 21st summer, in fact.

I’ve used up every one plus a couple of the 18 summers I’ve been counseled are all I had with this child, who is technically no longer a child.

I understand the point of these “you only get 18 summers with your kids” posts that circulate every summer. I truly do. They’re meant, wisely, to make us understand that even though the summer days can feel long, the summers themselves are short. They’re meant to make us savor the moments and appreciate them while we’re in them.

But sometimes, I think they can also make moms feel panicked and frenzied and a little (or a lot) crazed.

We can start to feel like we have to build that sand castle now and play in the sprinklers now and drop every normal activity we had scheduled for the day now and head to the beach now and take gorgeous pictures of every moment of all of it . . . now. And these things are wonderful—but everything that’s good to do isn’t good to do right this minute, and everything that’s good to do in a summer isn’t necessarily good to do this summer.

When I look at my mostly-grown daughter, I don’t see all I had; I see all I have.

I don’t see what was; I see what is.

I don’t see what I’ve lost; I see what I’ve gained.

It is true that from my vantage point at the cusp of her 21st summer, I can look back over all the years and see the things I might have missed. I see days when we didn’t do anything worth taking a picture of. I see days when I didn’t set aside my housework to play. I see trips to the beach that never happened and ice cream flavors that never got sampled.

But so, so much more than what I missed, I see what my family and I hit. I see camping trips and doughnut sundaes and late nights watching movies with the sound of the peepers coming in through the open windows as background music. I see an impromptu trip to the lake with my teenager that she described on social media as one of her best days ever.

And even though I am well—WELL—past my own 18th summer, I can also see all the joys I’ve experienced with my mom since we used up that first batch of 18 together.

I see, just last spring, a trip to the beach when we ate a tower of onion rings, then walked along a lakeside path until we could justify eating ice cream. And we did it in the company my then-20th-summer daughter, which felt like a bonus in every way, to all of us.

Oh, mama, if you’re in the middle of a first summer or an 18th summer or some summer in between, go ahead and squeeze the life out of it. Seize some of those summer-only moments. But I encourage you not to do it in worry over what you’re missing; do it in wonder over what you’re hitting. Don’t do it in fear over what you’re losing; do it in faith over what you’re gaining.

Because when you get to that 19th summer and beyond, I promise you’ll understand that what you’ve gained is something no number can put an end to.

A version of this post originally appeared on Her View From Home.

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I'd love to hear from you! Feel free to tell me what you really think. Years ago, I explained to my then-two-year-old that my appointment with a counselor was "sort of like going to a doctor who will help me be a better mommy." Without blinking, she replied, "You'd better go every day." All of which is just to say I've spent some time in the school of brutal honesty!