I did something this past month I’ve been wanting to do for years: I had all our old home videos put onto DVD. And even though I was ecstatically happy to finally have them in a ready-to-watch format, I found myself bawling — bawling — as I sat down to watch the infant years of our family.
I had no idea what it would do to me to relive the births of all four of my children in less than 48 hours. It was overwhelming to watch footage of my 8-year-old daughter as a toddler again, with her soft curly hair and sweet little voice, and my now 15-year-old daughter pat and kiss her newborn baby brother’s face when she was still practically a baby herself, and the four of them together after my last was born when they were all still young and innocent at the same time.
It was only five years ago for crying out loud, but our oldest is now a full-blown teenager, and our second-born is on the brink of morphing as well. And even though “the little girls” (as I like to call them) are still legitimately young at 5 and 8 years old, they certainly aren’t toddlers or babies anymore. But what really kills me is the realization that in the same five years moving into the future, my oldest will be 20 and my youngest will be 10!
And it happens just that fast. (Start doing your own math … )
But this isn’t really meant to be a post about the bittersweet agony of watching your children grow up before your very eyes on a wide-screen TV (good heavens, I’m tearing up again), it’s about what hit me the most as I watched those snippets of birthdays, Christmases, family reunions and just silly times playing around the house: There was so. much. love.
It struck me, hard, because what I remember feeling far too much during those years of babies and toddlers was exhaustion, annoyance and discontent. Of course, the love was there, too, but I think I took it in more like a side dish rather than the main course.
And it makes me a little sad for my old self. I wish I could go back and shake her while yelling, “Look! Who cares if your furniture doesn’t match, and you have to buy second hand clothes for your kids, and your belly is a little flabby, and you haven’t been on a real vacation in years, and the kids are dribbling goldfish all over the freshly vacuumed living room floor. Who cares! You have a home full of love! Love is what matters!”
Unfortunately, I don’t really believe I can convince any of us in the thick of baby and toddlerhood to cherish every second of those fleeting moments that are, let’s be honest, hard. It’s just not realistic. It’s not. (I so loved Glennon Melton’s must-read “Don’t Carpe Diem.”) And knowing that, I was just thrilled to see that in spite of the bad sleep, the bad hair, the bad behavior and even the bad videography, the most important ingredient of a happy family was there in copious amounts.
No, love is not all you need (as the Beatles suggested). The vast majority of us are much more happy when we like how we look, have a clean and organized home, are running on a full night of sleep, and can go to Target without having to count every penny. But it wouldn’t hurt any of us to remember that the glue of our families is not in those external things. It really is the love that matters. And most of us have that part down.
The day I picked up the DVDs I wasn’t really in a good frame of mind to watch them. After spending the better part of the afternoon with my daughter at the DMV helping her get her learner’s permit, we had an “exchange” that didn’t go over too well and left us both feeling hurt. It wasn’t like the frustration of dealing with a screaming toddler, but it was ugly in its own way and led me to temporarily convince myself that the bliss of those early years was a thing of the past. (That’s probably half the reason I was bawling, actually.)
It was completely irrational, and I “came to” later that evening when we were in the midst of an ordinary evening replete with the usual annoyances and frustrations. I was in my wrath, I tell you, until my 8-year-old daughter came to me with one of those love letters that stops you dead in your tracks: “Dear Mom, I don’t think I’ve ever told you this, but I love and respect you more than anyone in the world. You do my laundry, make me dinner, and help me with my homework … “
And I almost laughed (after I stopped bawling) as I realized I was doing now what I was doing back then: Magnifying the deficits rather than seeing and experiencing the overflowing love that invariably covers and makes up for all the perceived losses of family life — no matter what stage you’re in. Yes, it really is the love that matters.
Which is why in another five years I will be bawling again as I watch the home videos from this year.
QUESTION: Don’t you think there is enough love in your family to make up for the perceived deficits and losses? I bet there is!
CHALLENGE: Don’t expect the usual challenges and frustrations to go away any time soon. Just try to remember that it’s the love that matters and take it in as a main dish every day.