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I wasn’t counting.

I was feeding you on the sofa in the dark, I was rereading the directions on a box of fish sticks. I was down the hall or high up in the bleachers, stranded in the pick-up line. I was listening in between dreams for a feverish cry or making another cup of coffee because the first one grew cold. I was trying to learn math again.

I wasn’t counting that the years would blur the memories, that the big moments would be mostly too grand to hold. The first day of kindergarten. Your ruddy face beaming below a red and yellow party hat. Eight today, and then 10. In my mind, you are forever 12. The very last time I dropped you off at practice, “Stop here mom, I’ll walk.” The first time you drove to school on your own. The bittersweet picture of the pretty girl leaning her head on your shoulder.

I wasn’t counting because there was so much to DO.

I was busy, I was consumed, with devotion and investment and profound love, the kind that makes you forget to feed yourself. The kind that makes you want to write about it on Facebook. The kind that makes you crazy and tired and lonely, sometimes out of your mind.

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It is a lot of pressure to be told, “Enjoy every moment.” Because as a parent we are mostly too busy living, to notice when a moment . . . is a moment.

Until suddenly it sneaks up, the feeling that there are so few moments left. One day I am preheating the oven and there is time to think—and so much less to do. And it is impossible not to notice as I serve the fish sticks without you.

And this is when I start to count.

The first day of your senior year, the last first of so many firsts that hit cruelly every time, even when I think I cannot be hit anymore. The fierceness of 17, braver and wilder, more grown than 16. 100 dollars starts a checking account. 285 days until graduation. The last time you sleep in your bed down the hall.

And when there are no more numbers left, I will curse time and cry for myself. How can I cry for you, as you begin your life, the one I was growing you up to live?

RELATED: To The Mom of a Teen Boy, You’re (Still) the One He Needs

So I will lean into a new chapter, I will join a book club, or get a tattoo. I will cut my hair or write a novel, I will get a puppy. I will drink my coffee, hot. But I will keep counting—the days until you come home for Thanksgiving, the times you call just to talk. And when you don’t call, I will consider that the silence means you are leaning in, too.

That you are making it count.

Right now, you are looking up at me from the football field, reaching up your hand, “What a game, Mom. What a game.”

You are calling to say, “I got pulled over on the way to school, but I didn’t get a ticket. I have to watch how fast I’m going.”

How fast it goes, my love.

I wasn’t counting on that.

Originally published on the author’s Facebook page


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Nicole Jankowski

Nicole Jankowski is an Austin-based writer and mom of four. Her essays have been featured in The New York Times, Washington Post and NPR.

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