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Dear current self,

You’ve heard a lot of mothers admonish you to slow down and enjoy every moment with your children. They’ve warned you with phrases like “before you know it,”  “in the blink of an eye,” and other cliché’s that haven’t really hit you, but they will.

Soon, they will.

I am writing you now because I’ve seen you trying to wrap your mind around the how-toas if holding time in your hand is a skill anyone has successfully mastered.

I’ll save you the suspense. It can’t be done. It is inevitable.

Your kids are going to grow up.

Their baby teeth are going to be replaced with gawky teeth that are too big for their mouths, and because of that, you’re going to have to invest in a set of braces or two, and they’re going to get gum stuck in them, and just so you’re prepared, you’re going to cry the day those braces finally come off and you realize how grown your sons have become. And not only will their teeth change, but so will their bodies. Both of those little guys are going to be taller than you are.

RELATED: When Your Little Boys Aren’t Little Anymore, This is What You Can Look Forward To

And they’re going to try your patience and confuse the heck out of you. They’re going to keep you awake all hours of the night, and you’re going to wonder what they are doing and pray that they aren’t doing. They are going to make you proud, so proud, but they are also going to disappoint you.

But here’s the thing, all of that is for the future. Today is about today, and here’s what I need you to pay attention toreally, REALLY, pay attention to before it is gone. Are you listening?

I need you to care more about caring less.

Yes, you are a caregiver, but you aren’t simply a caregiver. The caregiving part will take care of itself and can be done by anyone, but the caring, the loving, the noticing, the nurturing, the adorationthat is what makes you a mother. And no, you can’t stop, or even slow down time, but you can take the time to notice and record the smallest things.

Let me explain what that looks like. Today . . . 

Don’t bathe your son simply because he needs a bath. Bathe him because he loves to flap his legs against the water and laugh hysterically. Let him splash for a few extra minutes. It’s OK if the floor gets wet.

His diaper is wet, but don’t just remove the diaper, remember he loves when you snatch it off and scream like a monster.

When he puts his hands on top of yours trying to teach you how to clap pretend you don’t know how to clap for as long as he wants to show you.

When you can’t find the pacifier, try to remember it’s the white one with the brown bunny on the front, and also remember that as frustrating as it may seem at the time, it’s not nearly as frustrating as all the things you’ll be searching for (that you won’t be able to find) in the future.

Sure, you’re ready for bed. He is too, but don’t rush it.

When he falls asleep, rock him for a little longer than required. Pay attention to those flushed cheeks and that sweaty little curl on the top of his head. For your future self’s sake, squeeze him a little tighter as he hums his way through a fight with sleep. Trace shapes on his back with your fingers as you marvel at those fire truck pajamas that are starting to get a little snug on him. 

RELATED: The Stage That Sneaks Up on Mamas Raising Little Boys

When you finally put him in his crib, the one with the bite marks on the wooden railing, please stand over his crib for a few extra minutes. Take the time to notice the fleece, baby blue blanket with the brown monkeys and the yellow giraffes because (believe it or not) as many times as you have looked at that blanket, you will soon forget what it looked like. You’ll also forget what he looked like with that blanket tucked up to his nose sucking that pacifier before finally giving up the fight.

Turn off the light but turn slowly when you do, and not because you’re afraid you’ll wake him, turn slowly because they’re right.

The minute you turn your head, he’s going to be grown.

And that’s OK. It’s bound to happen. Just don’t let it happen without you taking the time to notice, without you taking the time to care more about caring less. I hope you’re listening.

Your future self

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Caryn Bell

Caryn Bell is mother to two boys, wife to a baseball coach, a district literacy coach in Santa Rosa County, FL, a teacher advocate, and an avid reader.

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