Between diaper pins and car keys

I grew up in a small town with three siblings – my older and younger sisters being just seven years apart. And my parents got a lot of advice about raising kids. One of my dad’s favorite lines was: “The best years are the ones between diaper pins and car keys.”

The sentiment is good. I’m definitely relishing these days where my girls are old enough to go to the bathroom and take showers by themselves, yet not so independent as to want to borrow the car or get part-time jobs. Also the phrase is just antiquated enough to be charming; even the cloth-diapering moms of today don’t use those heavy duty pins any more. And certainly by the time my girls are driving, car “keys” will have gone the way of dinosaurs and diaper pins in favor of high-tech key fobs.

But I would argue that as parents, it is our responsibility to savor every age and stage of our kids’ lives. Even the exhausting ones where your baby wakes up screaming during the night for a feeding. Even the potty-training ones where you swear you’ve spent more time in your bathroom than you did in your first apartment. When you are a full-time resident of Teething World, Toddling World or the Land of Terrible Twos, it might feel like you’ll never live anywhere else again.

But you will.

Two tips: I remember thinking I was going to be in my 50s before my daughters ever slept through the night. Of course that didn’t happen. When I am in my 50s, I will be waiting up for them to come home during the wee hours. Either way, sleeplessness prevails. The worries of motherhood just take on a different form and intensity.

Secondly, if you are feeling stuck in a rut as a parent, spend some time with kids of different ages. Hold a chubby, beautiful, babbly baby for a while … then gratefully hand him back to his mother once he starts drooling or fussing. Have a conversation with a teenage niece/nephew or neighbor … then say a quick prayer of gratitude that your little one doesn’t yet have a colorful vocabulary or surly attitude.

There are days when I definitely miss the look of wonder and discovery on a toddler’s face when she touches dandelion fluff, pops soap bubbles or holds a wriggly caterpillar for the first time. But those nostalgic feelings fade as I think about how my girls are able to dress themselves, get in and out of the van by themselves and will – on some occasions – sleep in past 8 a.m. on a weekend.

Remember that whether you are closer to the diaper pin or car key phase of life, none of it lasts forever. The love we have for our children, however – whether they are 2 or 22 – that is what is eternal.

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