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Parenting Imperfect

January 8, 2011

Memories of the kids as they were then mostly recalled in pictures

I have a nearly identical revelation every time I'm forced to go through the stacks of snapshots I really should put in an album already: how did my children get to be so big?

The passage of time should be no surprise to me by now. After mumble-mumble years on the planet, I know about how long an hour is, a day is, a year is. Yet, still, I'm boggled when I'm reminded that the youngest child was ever an infant, even when I'm staring at a picture from when he was 1.

I'm thrilled that a good friend suggested putting other distinctive things in the baby pictures with him, like a blanket that only he used or, even better, a calendar. "Otherwise," she said, "you'll never remember which baby it is."

My first response was that of course I'll remember which infant is which. I'm their mother. How dare you suggest that I'm not cognizant of the baby's every wrinkle and expression!

Now, five years on, unless I have something to gauge by in the photo itself, I can't tell which baby is which. Let that be a lesson.

I know it's not just me. Every parent does this. The passage of time and the deterioration of your memory sneaks up on little cat feet. My dad, when we were walking down the aisle at my wedding, wondered how I could be getting married, since, he asked, "You're only 4 years old?"

And, for the record, I wasn't 4 when I got married, just in case you were tempted to call Child Protective Services. I do look at my college students sometimes, many of whom are the same age that my now husband of many years and I were when we first moved in together, and boggle at how young we must have seemed to our parents when we did so.

I have the opposite problem from my dad, however. I have zero problem with accepting them at the ages they are now, even if it takes me a minute to answer when asked how old they are. What appears to have fallen out of my head is what they looked like before right this very instant. I have zero doubt that each was 2, 3 and 4; I just can't immediately recall an image of them at those ages.

So much of that has to do with seeing them just about every day. The changes are so gradual on a daily scale that you don't notice they've happened until someone points them out. You don't see the millimeters the Diva has grown over the course of a week; what you notice is the instant when the hem of her pants is above her ankle bones. Time suddenly compresses, then.

And it compressed again this weekend. I'd been away for three days, off on a short tour of New England yarn shops. Yes, really. When I got home, the Diva stood up to give me a hug _ actually, I think she simply wanted to see if I'd brought home any treats for her _ and unfolding her limbs to get off of the couch took much longer than I'd remembered. In the span of three days, I swear that she grew another foot. (In height. Not like another foot on another part of her body. She continues to have the standard two at the end of her legs.)

In that moment, six weeks of growth collapsed into 20 seconds. Her face has changed again, too, but without digging out pictures, I can't quite put my finger on how. It has now completely lost its baby roundness but there's something else, too. It will only become obvious in hindsight when I look at pictures from a year ago. Not only will I wonder at how much she's changed, I'll wonder at who that lumpy, gray matron is beside her, only to realize that it's me.

While I was on my mini tour of the yarn shops of New England _ yes, really _ I got to talking with one of the shop owners, whose now-grown daughter was due back in town after a semester of student teaching on Cape Cod. You could almost see the pride this mom felt for her girl, for all of her four kids, really, when she was talking about them.

It gave me hope.

All but the youngest, who will graduate from college this year, are grown and more or less on his or her own. This mom survived. In fact, this mom thrived. Even though some of the individual moments may have been rough, overall the ride has been a pleasant and fulfilling one for her. She not only loves her now-big kids but actually seems to like them, too.

I find this astounding, given how we're just at the beginning of the middle of the parenthood haul. Every day can be a battle of put-your-shoes-on-now-I-mean-it and when-will-you-learn-to-shut-the-bathroom-door and you-lost-your-snowpants-again? It's nice to see that it just might work out eventually and they'll be relatively reasonable adults.

In hindsight, the memory of what it feels like to parent a 5- and an 8-year-old right now will be almost non-existent, except for the pictures. Which is good to know on those days when the loss of yet another pair of snowpants feels like the end of the world. But, if nothing else, I can pull out the photos and vaguely recall how hard it felt when they were younger _ and how much easier it is now.

Adrienne Martini is a freelance writer, instructor at the State University College at Oneonta, mom to Maddy and Cory, wife to Scott, and author of "Sweater Quest," which was published in March. Her columns can be found at parentingimperfect.

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