“Mama, come! I want to read you something,” my oldest daughter called from her spot on the couch beneath the twinkling Christmas tree. Her lanky frame was holding Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone; the same copy I held when we read it to her when she was too little to read on her own. We’ve read it hundreds of times since then.

For the first time, when she was three and every single child in her pre-k class got the stomach virus and I had to pick her up, pale and covered in vomit and so very small in a line of children who were all looking worse for wear. We read it again the weeks leading up to her first day of kindergarten at bedtime when she begged for just another chapter. We read it still every time she feels the anxiety rise to a point where it seems bigger than herself and only the gentle cadence of a well-loved story will calm it. 

But when she called that particular day I didn’t think I had time for another reprise.  We had read it so much I could practically recite it, and I brushed off her request in order to pick up the pile of shoes clogging the staircase which I had deemed an accident waiting to happen. But even as the words were coming out of my mouth, “Not right now, love,” I felt the weight of something else, something familiar, quietly whispering:

You’re missing it. 

It was the same voice whispering the same phrase when I wasn’t able to take the day off work to see her off on her first day of school.

You’re missing it. 

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The same voice when I decline her request to sit a little, play a little, run a little, watch a little. Even when I hadn’t washed my hair in three days and my pajama pants could walk away by themselves and I’d already cried three times before breakfast and would try to casually remark, “I’m not sure why I’m so emotional today” when the reason was very clearly because I hadn’t had a single moment alone in days. I was too busy swimming in guilt and obligation in a feeble attempt not to miss anything. 

Everyone tells you how important it is to be present.  That it all goes so fast.  To do whatever you can not to miss a moment of their little-ness. I don’t necessarily disagree. However,  no one tells you that if you give the microphone over to that voice inside your head instead of just letting it share the stage once in a while, it likes the spotlight too much to quit. Even when you’ve played Barbies for 3 hours. Even when you’ve watched more weird YouTube videos of other kids playing with their toys than anything with a conflict or a plotline.

Even when you’ve got nothing left, it still whispers . . . 

You’re missing it. 

Here’s what I wish someone in the grocery line or at church or in the PTA would have said to me: you WILL miss some things. You created little life forms with their own existences, not extensions of your own body (however much it may feel like that). Of course, you won’t be present for every single moment of their lives. You will miss it.

The tone in your voice or the thing you said in passing without thinking too much about it that they will never forget. You’ll miss it. The exchange on the playground that sent them running off the bus into your arms in the tears they held in all day until they saw youtheir safe place. You’ll miss it sometimes. 

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You’ll miss things. And you should. You’re supposed to. You were never meant to soothe their every ache and cry so they never learn how strong they can be on their own. You were never meant to shield them from all of the things because then the world would be shocking and frightening as they grew instead of full of experiences and adventure.

You were never meant to protect them so fiercely that they never, truly live.  

You were meant to miss some things so that you would have the presence, the discernment, and the energy to whole-heartedly show up for the things you do NOT want to miss like your preteen daughter wanting to sit down next to you and hold your hand. So, you leave the shoe clean up for later, lean your head against the back of the couch, and close your eyesthe way she used to do when you read the same story to her.

Not out of guilt, obligation, or the unrealistic expectations of the little voice inside but because this moment right here is something you know for certain you do not want to missfor yourself and for her.  

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Jenny Vanderberg Shannon

Jenny Vanderberg Shannon has a B.A. in English Literature and an M.A. in Education Leadership and a Ph.D. in overcommitment. She resides in northern New Jersey with her husband Rich and their two, wild daughters. She’s a writer, reader, cook and you’ll often find her at the piano or in the garden. Basically a contemporary Victorian lady with a deep-seated penchant for Thai food, fart jokes, and strong coffee.

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