They say time has a wonderful way of showing us what really matters. And nowhere could this be more true than in parenthood. The life-altering event that is welcoming a new baby into the world cannot be compared, yet with it comes adjustment and acceptance.

I often find myself gazing at my existence with a mix of amazement and longing. At the forefront, gratitude for the abundant blessings I have. But not far behind lie the memories from another time when life was different. It’s those things I used to see—the ones that occasionally creep up into “I wish”—that are daily reminders of how much has changed thanks to three small humans who call me “Mom”.

I used to see a bare table, free of sticky fingerprints or crumbs, with a beautiful centerpiece that would be changed to fit the season. What once was the focal point of the kitchen, is now a place where tiny fingers draw and practice writing their name. It’s art-project central—glitter sinking down into the slivers of the wood grain. No longer a naked surface, it’s lovingly adorned with colorful, laminated placemats and half-full sippy cups.

I used to see an empty calendar, with weeks and weeks of freedom, the only writing that of a romantic getaway or a girls’ night out. But those rows of squares have quickly filled up, leaving fewer vacant than occupied. Doctor’s appointments, concerts, playdates and sporting activities are the new monthly notations.

I used see a more youthful reflection—rested eyes, a slimmer frame. But every morning that I’m one day older, and with every child that I’ve grown inside me, I inch further and further away from that likeness I knew years ago. Bags are darker, belly is softer. Nothing looks like it once did.

But . . .

When I see my table today, I see that it’s full. I see my husband and the smiling faces of three healthy, happy children. It’s where we sit and talk about our days, where spills and messes happen and are eventually tidied up. My table has more character now than it ever did in the past.

When I see my calendar today, I see milestones. First birthdays, preschool graduations, swim lessons, and T-ball games. I see learning, and the excitement in my children’s eyes at trying something new or accomplishing a long sought-after goal. I see socialization, discovering diversity, and realizing the world is a pretty big place.

When I see my reflection today, I see strength. I see arms that have carried and rocked babies for hours on end. There are lines on my face—some from the worry that accompanies motherhood, and some from the endless smiles my little ones bring me. I see both mental and emotional fortitude that never would have existed before.

Yes, life has changed dramatically, and the things I see now are much different from my pre-parent vision. But I like to think that when looking back doesn’t interest you anymore, you’re doing something right. As the author Iain Thomas once said, “Everything has changed and yet, I’m more me than I’ve ever been.”

Jennifer Craven

Jennifer Craven considers herself a good mom, despite the fact that she purposely waits for her kids to go to bed before eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s simply because she doesn’t want to share. Mother to two young daughters, Jen spends her days attempting to balance that delicate role many women know far too well: working mom. When she’s not picking Cheerios off the floor, she works full-time in the fashion merchandising department at Mercyhurst University, where she teaches fashion journalism, among several other courses.