It never fails.

I am in the home stretch of a grocery store run with my kids. SO MANY THINGS have happened to get to this point. All the people have been clothed and diapered and fed. The grocery trip itself has been meticulously planned to begin the moment the baby wakes up from her morning nap, and end before she falls asleep in the car (and thereby ruining any possibility of an afternoon nap). The diaper bag is packed overflowing with spare underwear for the potty-trainer, teething toys for the baby, and enough goldfish to last a week. Lights out, doors locked, car started, down the street, race back home because you forgot the Special Green Cup. (All those goldfish make a kid thirsty). Grab the giant reusable grocery bags you forgot, lock the door again, take the baby’s sock out of her mouth, and away we go.

It’s also raining, because OBVIOUSLY IT’S RAINING ON GROCERY DAY.

Already exhausted upon entry into the store. The next hour is a whirlwind circus act that includes bouncing up and down while perusing ransacking the aisles in an effort to keep the baby content in the carrier and simultaneously trying to get the toddler to stop tossing the grocery list onto the floor. Usually helpful games like “Find All the Red Things” and “Please Stop Screaming Like a Banshee” have failed dismally and conditions are worsening by the millisecond. The goldfish didn’t even make it through the produce section.  Just as the toddler reaches his hand up to smack the baby on the head on purpose, she approaches. Kind smile, blue hair, leisurely pace. You know the type. I know what she is going to say before the words escape her lips. I brace myself.

“Enjoy these times, because they go by so fast.”

I can’t pay attention as she tells me about the accomplishments her grown children, partially because the baby is very aggressively trying to peel my boob out from under three layers of clothing, and partially because I’m wondering what it must be like to push a grocery cart without a gargantuan germ-infested, crumb-encrusted plastic car attached to the front.

Every fiber of my being is fighting against the forced grin on my face, and for a brief moment I half-seriously consider handing the children off to her and running free to Starbucks or Target or perhaps the nearest airport. After all, she MISSES THESE DAYS. It would be a personal favor.

Sanity prevails, I decide to keep my children, at least for today, and I muster a “Yeah, it’s pretty great!” through gritted teeth while giving my 2-year-old the stink eye and grabbing a jumbo-sized bottle of wine off the shelf.

We make it through the grocery trip somehow. Long after we’re home, though, I can’t stop thinking about this woman, and most of what I’m thinking is that she’s just forgotten the reality of what it is like to have small children. If she really remembered what this stage of motherhood is like – with all the snot and poop and whining and, OH MY GOSH the constant questions, and did I mention the whining? – if she remembered all of it, then surely, she would not have made that trite little comment, CAN I GET AN AMEN?

Well, I cannot hate this more, but I think my prideful, self-pitying self needs to shut it. This dear woman may not remember all of the difficulty of the childbearing years in stunning, tantruming reality, but she is still living in reality – and her reality now, at least some part of it, is “I miss those days”.  I still want to sucker punch the woman (KIDDING) but I know it’s true – while I’m thinking “This old lady has forgotten what it’s like”, she’s thinking “This young lady doesn’t know what she’s got in front of her”. We are both living in reality, and I think we’re both right.

It’s so easy to roll my eyes at the “It goes by in the blink of an eye” type of comments, but I have to stop being so dismissive of the sentiment, because it is REAL to this woman and I am certain it will be real to me one day. I suddenly want to go back to the grocery store (she’s probably still there since she has all the time in the world to compare prices without somebody loudly asking her about animal poop) and ask her – HOW CAN I POSSIBLY CHERISH EVERY MOMENT? WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY IF YOU COULD DO IT ALL AGAIN? WHAT IS THE SECRET TO LIIIFFE?

My guess?

She would tell me that she remembers all too well the utter exhaustion after a sleepless night with a newborn. She would smirk as she recalled in detail the time she threw a frying pan at the wall because she was overworked and under-appreciated. She would reassure me that a lot of the moments in a day with tiny kids are not just un-cherishable, they are downright awful. And that it’s okay to long for the big-kid years while you scrub poop off the wall. She would tell me that she doesn’t know how she did it, but that she would give anything to do it all over again.

The days are long, the years are short – we all know it’s true. But even with most sincere efforts, we’ll never manage to make the most of every moment. We’ll screw up every Pinterest craft we attempt, and from time to time, we’ll snap and yell at the kids when we’re at the end of our ropes. And then we’ll turn on Daniel Tiger for a little bit too long to compose ourselves and EVERYONE WILL SURVIVE.

It will all be okay. And then sometimes, when we really need it, we’ll be caught off-guard by an extra-big hug for no good reason, or an unprompted “I love you, Mommy.”

Or one of those adorable toddler mispronunciations (my current personal favorites: “hostable” = hospital, “red berries” instead of grapes, counting “eleven” in between six and eight…)

And the BABY GIGGLES. I don’t care who you are, those little squeals are heavenly.

Those little bits of independence, like conquering the tall slide at the playground – and the elated “I DID IT!” afterward.

The way the baby relaxes instantly at your touch.

Your toddler’s searching eyes finding yours across the room – just to make sure you’re still watching.

Soft baby skin under your fingers. Kisses and hugs and silly songs.

These times are HARD, but we better enjoy them, mamas. They go by so fast.

…Damn old lady made me cry.