Some weeks ago, my toddler refused his daytime sleep. Flat out refused it. Screaming in the cot refused it. As I faced this irate little person, tears of anger streaming down his face and howling impressively, I had a sudden and unusual moment of clarity. Usually I would have become irritated by the nap deficiency. But that day, a phrase popped into my head, one that my friends and I often repeated during difficult times.
“This too shall pass”.
I felt detached from the emotion of the moment and simply watched my toddler, observing him, noticing the redness of his face and the wetness of his hair, wet with tears and sweat. This too shall pass. A moment of reflection, of pausing to remember this moment, so I could look back on it with some fondness and say, remember that day when you refused to sleep, and you were jumping up and down in the cot because you were so cross?
This too shall pass.
I’ve repeated this phrase since then, on many occasions. During the good, the bad, and even the mundane and pedestrian parts of my parenting journey. Parenthood can often feel like a desperate race through the “phases”, always hurtling forward, always wishing this current phase was over, that the children would be more independent, less clingy, less messy, less fidgety, less screamy, less whingey. Every day is a rollercoaster of the sublime and the ridiculous, of tender and furious moments, of emotions lurching from irritation to pride. But I feel the ticking of the clock hurrying us along, each day passing by, never to be relived, and I come to know this with both relief and sadness.
Those chubby cheeks will pass.
Sand in little shoes, emptied all over our floor, will pass.
Repeated requests for more water, more cheese, more yoghurt, more sultanas will pass.
Waking up in the middle of the night calling “Mama! Mama!” will pass.
Waking at the crack of dawn will pass.
Little hands in mine will pass.
Tiny children sitting on my lap, thumbing clumsily through a book will pass.
Seemingly endless cycles of domestic chores (little socks are put away, taken out, worn, washed, hung out, folded, and put away again) will pass.
Couscous all over the floor after dinner will pass.
Screaming while being buckled into the stroller will pass.
Stopping to play with a bead on the floor when we are supposed to be getting ready to go out will pass.
Nightly nagging to brush teeth and get into pyjamas will pass.
Tousled heads on my pillow, heavy with sleep, will pass.
Jumping on the couch to the Octonauts theme song will pass.
Small, warm heads resting on my shoulder, as I carry them to bed, will pass.
Splashing in the bath will pass.
Fevers and illnesses will pass. For the most part.
Toys all over the couch and floor and in my bed will pass.
Crayon marks on the wall, and little handprints on the mirror will pass.
Walking at snails pace, while holding a small toddler’s hand, stopping to examine every leaf and twig will pass.
Endless questions about anything and everything will pass.
Refusing to eat something they devoured the night before will pass.
Pointing out something amazing to me will pass.
I wish I could say to you that it has made things easier. It hasn’t. I do, however, have a new sense of perspective, of being able to step back from the chaos from time to time and see the continuum of my parenting journey. At times I seem to lurch from thinking “I can’t wait for this to end!” to thinking “I never want this to end!” These four words remind me that it will all come to an end, eventually, all of it. I am also aware that these things will come to pass because my children are healthy; that if they weren’t their strapping selves, I might still be dealing with labour-intensive care even when they are adolescents or adults. Nor am I minimising the sheer effort and terror that comes with raising very small children. If only those glib words “It goes so fast!” – clearly uttered by people who are long past the toddler stage – could truly make those trying days any shorter. They don’t. Those days are long, sometimes impossibly and reduced-to-tears long, and that throwaway line can add additional guilt and ambivalence to an already difficult existence.
“This too shall pass” though reminds me that time is not sentimental – it marches on and leaves all moments in its trail, no matter what their quality – happy, heartwarming, infuriating, exhausting, mind-numbingly repetitive. The hiding-in-the-bathroom crying moments. The breathless moments when you see a small child sleeping peacefully in a cot, clutching a much-loved toy. The pride and amazement when your baby masters holding a spoon, or learns a new word. “This too shall pass” asks me to accept parenting as an entire package packed full of this kaleidoscope of moments. It reminds me to live in the moment, just for today. Because today will pass, and tomorrow, and the day after, and, imperceptibly, so will my time with my children.
My son woke yesterday at 6am. Not a terrible time of the morning but early nonetheless. I patted him back to sleep but every time I tried to move away he started to fuss. So I waited by his cot, hand on his back, waited until he was completely asleep. All twenty minutes of it. My daughter was sleeping peacefully next to us. A few random toys were scattered on the floor – a little car, a stray Duplo block. I had this engulfing sense of sweetness, coupled with an ache in my heart.
This too shall pass.