I began driving, coasting along interstate 75 South toward Chattanooga, then Huntsville, Alabama. Earbuds pressed gently into my ears, not only to listen to music I preferred but also to drown out the sound of the car DVD player blaring dialogue of an animated movie that we all have viewed one too many times. Lost in thought, I realized what power it was in modern age to be able to not only recall, at the touch of a finger, any song you wished to hear, but also to listen to it in its entirety, without any backseat interruption. I can remember when my brother and I were little that it seemed opportune to ask my mother a question right when her favorite song was playing on the radio in the Dodge Dynasty. She may not hear that favorite song again for days or weeks later, depending on a good mix of timing and fate. I sure hope my inquiry regarding space travel was worth missing a top 4o hit.
All of a sudden, I came back to reality with a jolt: did I pick up the kids from school? I jerked the pearl white earbuds from my ears frantically and my eyes darted to the rearview mirror, where three elementary aged children were all crammed in the middle row, watching that same movie that I so vehemently ignored only seconds ago. Where did my mind go in those few seconds when I believed I was alone? Both hands were on the wheel. I was not reaching to the back to retrieve a pacifier. Or a stuffed animal. I wasn’t stopping halfway to change a diaper in the backseat in a well-lit parking lot. There were no bottles. Or a pack and play. I had a small purse with a wallet and a few other essentials. But all of those essentials belonged to me. If my purse had been stolen that day, there would have been no way of knowing, based on its contents, I was a mother of three, small children.
It was the same as we explored the city, catering to a family friendly nightlife downtown and perusing the space museum with fresh eyes and curious minds. We were all our own people now, with varying degrees of humor, personality, drama, and secret extra kindness reserved for strangers. I would have mentally rushed away a trip like this a few years ago, but that weekend I watched everything they did, noted everything they said, made a mental note of what they all wore that day. There was a small voice, unfamiliar at first, but with growing intensity has become quite the mentor, whispering to me, “tomorrow, this will all be a memory”.
The trip home involved taking the youngest to the urgent care clinic with a high fever and degreed lethargy, otherwise transcribed as “when I cough, my brain hurts” and “pick me up, my legs stopped working”. With the flu descending on East Tennessee as the plague of locusts upon Egypt, the youngest was not spared, and thus spent several days confined at home. Lifting his weak, weary body into the warm bath, I put in a “fancy” bath bomb to make him relax and made him ramen noodles for lunch, which he declared to be “the most delicious food ever”. And now he is ready for college.
I put him to bed that night, carrying him once again, and he said, “I had so much fun with you today”. Scanning back through the afternoon, all I could remember was documenting varying degrees of body temperature, carefully measuring doses of medication, and diligently refilling his cup with fluids; I was worn from worry. “What was the most fun part?” I asked. “Just, all of it– the bath, the noodles, watching TV, talking about everything. These are my best days with you, Mama”.
We really are in the sweet spot in parenting, in between the “three Ds”: Diapers, Driving, Dating. I have this sudden urgency to do everything, all at once, and freeze this moment in time forever. For tomorrow, this will all be a memory. These are my best days with you, and I don’t want to miss a moment.