I guess we learned it early on as children. There are 7 days in a week, 24 hours in a day and 60 minutes in an hour. And I guess as kids, 24 seemed like an impressive number. It was three times the number of our age! A number that large deserves at least a modicum of respect.
Eventually we started to feel it though. The air moved faster around us and the days that once seemed limitless became hurried. Those 24 hours began to feel unforgiving and stubborn - unwilling to bend as we needed a little more here or little less there.
I'm not sure when most people begin to process these things, but as an introspective, slightly anxious little girl on the eve of her tenth birthday, I cried myself to sleep because I was turning 10...which was half of 20...which meant that soon I would be an adult and move out and have kids and then they would leave and people I loved would start dying and life would be over. And while my mom was downstairs bracing herself for the ensuing rush of third grade girls at a sleepover, I literally cried into my pillow until I fell asleep because time was moving too fast. Some might say I had a flare for the dramatic as a child.
In theory, I want more hours. Just a few more minutes to spend time with my boys, talk to my husband, tackle the insanity of working from home with small kids, or who knows...maybe with a few extra hours I would actually get around to moving the clean laundry from the dryer into the drawers. Doubtful, but hey, anything is possible.
That is what I want in theory, but like many things, what I think I want and what I actually need are not the same. I think I want more hours in a day, but my gut tells me I couldn't handle it. I feel lucky to survive the day as it is. If I can land on the couch by 8:00PM with two sleeping children that are actually staying in their beds, I count that as a victory and fight to stay awake long enough to finish my glass of wine and have a grown-up conversation with my husband.
Which is why I'm pretty sure God knew that 24 hours was our limit as human beings. Any more and I think we'd probably break.
So if I only get 24 and 7 of those are sleeping (for those that just laughed, I'm trying to stay optimistic that one day I will sleep for 7 hours again...one day....like in 2025), then what I do with those precious waking hours matters. A lot.
Because you guys, I feel it now more than ever.
This one will have his first birthday next month...
And this one now starts sentences with words like, "hey mom, just so you know..."
And every time I see a picture of us, I realize that it isn't our wedding day anymore. And I'm surprised by how tired we look. You know the way presidents age more quickly once in office? It's the same for parents, only we don't get a make-up team and our cameras are less forgiving.
When people tell me, "cherish every moment with them because this stage will end before you're ready," I nearly burst into tears. I know these days are long and exhausting - it's been a frequent subject for me (like here and here); but as you have probably noticed, I am painfully aware of how brief these years are. The reminder really isn't necessary. I was the kid who cried over turning ten, you can imagine the way my mind haunts me while I'm nursing the baby or holding the preschooler during the quiet hours of the night.
This recognition of time pulls my attention away from the noise and sharpens my focus on the things that are lasting - my family and my God. This is where I'll invest my time. These are the places I'll pour my heart out for.
There's a quote floating around that says something along the lines of "When you're hugging a child, always be the last one to let go. You never know how long they need it."
My boys have a habit of wiggling out of my arms as soon as I started to squeeze and wax poetic about how much I love them. But I have a tendency to wiggle out as soon as I realize that our time playing Hot Potato is creeping into the time I had planned to write, clean or simply do something "more mature" than play Hot Potato.
So we're starting to stay longer. We're committing to being the last ones out. As long as they want to stay in the moment with us, we will stay in the moment with them. It means new boundaries and deeper patience and leaving our phones in the other room. It means longer bedtimes and less broadcasting and more privacy. It means refusing to distract myself from these hours that I will think back on 20, 30, 40 years from now as I sit loving the men they've become, but wishing I could kiss those round cheeks and cuddle those tiny bodies again.
Because one day my 24 hours will not be so consumed with their sleeping, playing, eating and crying. Those hours won't be divided between cleaning their clothes, washing their faces, cutting up their blueberries, or picking up their toys. I hope I'll be able to count a part of my day that is regularly theirs, but maybe not. So I count it as a gift that the majority of those 24 hours are spent keeping them alive and growing. It's my greatest responsibility and joy.
I want my children to see me use the other hours for something other than them. I want them to see me focus that time on something and Someone bigger - but because I'm not a fan of super-long blog posts, I'll turn over that thought next week.
As for the hours that are for my children and husband, I want them to really be for my children and husband. No meaningless distractions. No useless noise. No time tossed in the shallow places of life. The time that is theirs, I want it to be fully theirs, because when our hours run out, those are the moments we're going to remember.