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

Jen Craven writes about motherhood in all its complexities. She is also the author of the novels, "A Long Way From Blair Street," and "All That Shines and Whispers," which is set to publish in Februrary 2021. Jen's work has been featured in The Washington Post, Scary Mommy, Motherly, Her View From Home, Huffington Post, and more. Visit her at www.jencraven.com, or follow her on Instagram @jennifercravenauthor.