What ‘Savoring Each Moment’ With Your Kids Really Means

They were everywhere when my kids were small: older women smiling at me in the grocery store or approaching me at the library, their expressions softening at the sight of my baby’s plump cheeks, my toddler’s irrepressible grin. Before they opened their mouths to speak, I knew exactly what they were about to tell me: It all goes so fast. Enjoy them while they’re young. These women didn’t catch me at my most serene, but I always smiled politely and assured them I would do exactly that. Naturally, I didn’t mean a word of it.

Life with young kids is full of moments no one treasures, and the hours until a toddler’s naptime can seem slower than the day of labor it took to produce him. Didn’t those old ladies remember that? Why, I wondered, did they feel so compelled to urge me to enjoy every second?

Once my kids were tweens, those older women disappeared. There is universal agreement, it seems, that the parent of a 10-year-old need not be advised to enjoy every second. By then I felt far removed from the world of babies. My friends and I were focused on matters such as basketball practice and homework, and how to get our children to clean up their appalling rooms. I’d certainly acknowledge a cute infant when I spotted one in my daily rounds, but always with quick sigh of thankfulness to be done with diapers and sleepless nights.

It was only when my kids were teenagers that I began to notice babies again—really notice them. One day, minding my own business at the grocery store, I became aware of a curious pair of eyes regarding me unblinkingly from over the shoulder of a woman in the produce department. The baby’s cheeks were so delectably plump that I was tempted to give them a squeeze, like an avocado. Instead I smiled—and was rewarded by a huge, delighted grin.

I wanted to scoop that baby up and give her a kiss. The impulse was so strong that I actually had to take a step back to avoid being mistaken for a creepy hoverer. The mother turned around and caught my smile. “Um, your baby’s super cute,” I said. She thanked me and moved on to the bananas. As she walked away, I realized there was something I wanted to tell that woman. But following her and her baby would have been stalkerish, so I didn’t.

It was the sight of that baby’s uncomplicated smile that did it, that finally made me understand what those women had been trying to tell me all those years ago, when they repeatedly noted how fast it goes and urged me to enjoy each moment.

Frazzled and sleep deprived, I could only interpret that advice literally, and puzzle over it. Which was not, I now realize, the intent. What those women were telling me to enjoy in my little kids was something specific, something I took for granted until it disappeared from my life as a parent: unconditional love and affection.

I get it. I was a quiet, withdrawn teen myself, spending hours alone in my room with a book. I wasn’t particularly demonstrative—at least, not where my parents were concerned. I accepted their affection routinely, as my due. So I am unsurprised that my two teen boys don’t greet me with joy when I return home after a few hours away. I don’t expect them to tell me how much they love me, or to offer spontaneous hugs and kisses.

But it sure was nice when they did those things.

I’ll never be the type to advise a weary mother to treasure each moment. But that day in the produce section, I wanted to tell that woman something else: to soak up the embraces, the sweet heft of a toddler on the hip, the fun of coaxing a smile from a baby, the joy of a preschooler spotting you at pickup. Because if I had understood how much I’d miss all that affection, maybe I really would have tried to savor it a little more.

Of course, I didn’t say a word to that mother at the grocery store. I’m not one of those older ladies. Not yet, anyway.