When I walk into our neighborhood pool these days, I’m often greeted by a small, usually wet, 4-year-old. Her face lights up and she runs toward me, wrapping her arms around my legs, and looking up at me from behind turquoise goggles. We bonded a few months ago when I decorated her wrist with an assortment of rainbow-colored, rubber bracelets and filled her a plate of marshmallows and strawberries. Now she draws pictures for me, jumps to me in the shallow end, and runs toward me if she spots me somewhere.
Sometimes her mom, who is a dear friend of mine and younger than me, will apologize and sometimes fret over what she might assume is a bothersome pull on my attention. And I remember that hazy fog of small kids and how overwhelming it can be and how you don’t want to burden anyone else with your own, personal chaos. And how you worry that someone will just keep playing with your cute kid out of sheer politeness. But she couldn’t be more wrong.
We live in a suburb of Atlanta with wide streets that eventually lead to a clubhouse, pool, and tennis courts. It’s an eclectic mix of families and I’ve been fortunate enough to be on tennis teams with women of all ages. We’ve bonded also. During swelteringly hot matches and fierce competition, wins and losses, great food and cold beer, in that particular way that only being on a team together seems to.
Now, our friendships reach far beyond the tennis courts and into each other’s lives and homes and families. We’re all privy to that adult experience that once you reach a certain age, it doesn’t really matter how old you are—friendship can easily stretch through multiple generations. And, as a result, I have not only gained deep and lasting girlfriends, but it has also ushered in an irresistible band of even younger, tinier friends.
My kids are 17 and 20. One is well into college and the other is starting her senior year of high school and my days at home with babies and toddlers have long since passed. It’s a tender season of life, as my daughters leave the nest and make their way into their own lives. It’s impossible to navigate this phase and not think back (sometimes obsessively) on the years that have slipped away so swiftly and without warning. These children of my friends, they’re like little gifts—small packages of nostalgia, wrapped in high-pitched giggles, bright eyes, and tight hugs.
In my season of reflection, it’s uncanny to look back and see the beautiful unfurling of my daughters’ lives. Like so many of us, I’m overwhelmed with how deeply entrenched I was and how big and loud and real life with young kids was and how it’s all somehow coming to this new, bittersweet crossroads. The intersection of one thing ending and something else beginning.
All the countless phases of childhood seem to blur together. Snuggly, tiny babies who rest blissfully on your chest turn into wobbly toddlers who grow into kids who run off to school, new friends, and Little League. Those kids transform into teenagers who want their own space and independence. And eventually, those teenagers are young adults who are doing life (sort of) on their own.
And as much as I love being the mom to older kids—the laughter, the deep conversations, the tremendous pride—sometimes my arms ache for those little bodies that fit in my lap, the spindly legs that wrapped around my waist, those soft cheeks that demand to be smooched.
So, when that little girl with the turquoise goggles sees me and her face lights up and she comes running toward me with her arms flung wide, and her mom worries that I’ll be annoyed or burdened, I just open my arms up and catch her little body and hold her tight.
And I know that one day, when her kids are older and getting ready to head off into their own, grownup lives, maybe there will be another little girl with rosy cheeks, a squeaky laugh, and a wide smile who lights up when she sees her and runs with her arms wide open. As she catches her in a hug, she’ll know just what a gift her own little one has been to me.