We have a large family and except for the last two, they’re all about three years apart. That means as soon as one was mastering potty training (Yay! No more diapers!), I was pregnant with the next one. Maybe our celebration of this milestone should have been an ice cream sundae night instead of a date night. This means that from our first child’s birth in 1997 until our last one turned 4 in 2012, we always had an infant or toddler in our home. That’s 15 years of diaper bags, pacifiers, naps, co-sleeping (obviously not every night), teething and learning new car seats.

They were great years. I miss baby wearing and slobbery kisses. I miss those chubby thighs my babies had before they started walking.

They were hard years. You know this if you’ve recently had a baby-even just ONE baby is a learning curve and it’s wonderful but it is hard. I remember trying with every single baby to put them down when they were drowsy. They were magically supposed to drift off to sleep. Four out of five Fowler babies preferred to show how angry this made them instead. It never worked. Then Audrey came along-the very last one-and it finally worked. She loved her crib and refused to cuddle much at bedtime. Then I missed co-sleeping.

Night parenting was my hardest challenge. Shane was always better with a lack of sleep but he worked nights most of those early days so I had to handle the crying or sick babies. Getting to your wit’s end at 2am is hard parenting. I know you moms are working hard in the trenches of parenting little ones. I see you, I know it’s as hard as it is marvelous.

Parents my age want to tell you not to blink; to enjoy it because it’s fleeting.

This is true, indeed. I was so frustrated because I thought this advice meant that if you try to soak it all in and enjoy it, it won’t go by so fast. I’m sad to say that it goes by fast no matter what angle you try to experience it from.

The days are long but the years are short, Mama.

It’s easy to wish them away. We’re told not to but is it wrong to dream about the day you don’t have to trap your toddler in the public bathrooms stall with you, praying they don’t open the door mid-wipe? I don’t think it’s wrong-without a vision, the people parish, right?

But don’t resent the early days. They only last for a season (or 1.5 decades in our case). It is so freeing to not worry about a diaper bag and sippy cups. But I worry about other things now. Speech therapy, tonsillectomies, bullies, mean girls, my girls being mean girls, putting them in the driver’s seat on the highway, farm accidents, boyfriends, and the list goes on.

I’m not trying to be Debbie Downer. I would like to encourage you to live in the present instead of waiting for the next season. I’d often picture what we could do in the future instead of what we could do in the moment. Once the kids are bigger, we’ll go camping more. Once we move to the country, we’ll do more outdoor exploring. Someday we’ll take longer vacations…but there’s always something else pulling at you and you never arrive at “someday’-even when the kids are bigger.

Of course there are things best done in a later season, but embrace the season of your family and don’t let it limit you. Take the kids camping and keep your expectations low. There will be time to take longer, harder hikes when they get older. Invest in date night even if you have to be creative. Longer romantic trips away can happen in a few years. Enjoy IHOP late after the kids are in bed and left with a sitter until then. While the days are long, don’t let them steal your joy.

There are a few things we did that helped us survive the early years:

  • Baby wearing-you can do almost anything in a QUALITY sling
  • Pairing up big kids with little ones. The 5 year old can help the 2 year old find their shoes and fill up their drink. We called them “buddies” in our house and it was a lifesaver
  • Teach the older children that we serve the youngest/weakest among us-in many of your families, this is the newborn. It’s a good way to teach the way we should treat members of society while in our own home.
  • Keep expectations low. It’s okay to let a sticky floor go a few days (at least)
  • As soon as your children can do something for themselves, expect it often. Eventually this will lead to them cooking for themselves and even the family-which is huge.
  • Find a way to incorporate them into what you love-many hobbies and sports are family friendly. If you don’t have any that are, maybe it’s time for something new!

Written by: Wendy Fowler