My kids are 19, 8, and 6. Yes, you read that right: there’s a gap of 11 years between my first and second child.
That age gap has presented a unique set of positives and negatives throughout the years.
One of the good things: the benefit of hindsight. I’ve learned more than a few parenting and life lessons with my oldest daughter, and there’s still plenty of time to put that learning into practice with the younger two.
We moved the oldest into her college dorm in late August. She now lives over four hours away from us.
It’s been hard on me. I left a piece of my heart in that bustling college town, in a slightly musty-smelling dorm full of girls who decorate their rooms with fluffy neon rugs, Instagrams and duck tape.
Lucky for me, what’s left of my heart is filled with sweet and poignant memories of the past 19 years. It’s filled with gratitude and pride that my daughter has grown into a kind and compassionate young woman with a heart for loving and serving others.
But I have a few regrets, too.
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am the Queen of Regret. I can regret like nobody’s business. And a few times in the past few weeks, I’ve been hit by waves of regret so powerful and so painful they nearly bring me to my knees.
My biggest regret with this child is lost opportunities. In recent weeks, I’ve remembered all the times she asked me to go on a hike with her, or to sit down so we could watch one of her favorite television shows together. The times I put her off. I was too busy. I was tired. My to-do list was too long.
Now she’s gone, and I’d give anything for her to ask me to watch a DVRd episode of White Collar with her. I’d gladly give up two hours of work on a Sunday afternoon to take her hiking on the trails a few miles from our house.
Everyone has told me to cheer up, that this sadness is normal. This too shall pass.
I know they’re right. But for now, I want to be here in this somber, reflective place. I want to dwell in it for a moment before I move on. Because I want to do better. Better with the little ones. Better with my oldest, because if luck is on my side, there’s still time.
As much as regret hurts, it’s also a powerful motivator.
When the little ones ask me to play a board game, I want to say yes even if family game night isn’t on the schedule until next week.
When my six year-old asks to “make a recipe,” I want to say yes even if we have to run to the store for eggs first. When he asks to go on a bike ride, I want to say yes even if it’s 90 degrees outside and we still haven’t done our nightly review of sight words.
When my eight year-old asks for one more chapter, I want to say yes even if it’s already 15 minutes past her bedtime. When she wants me to play Legos, I want to say yes even if I really need to be getting dinner started.
And when my oldest comes home from college on Thanksgiving break, I want to say yes to her in a way that I didn’t in the past. I want to clear my schedule so we can go on that hike, or watch that show, or share those lattes at the local coffee shop.
Lesson learned: they’re only ours for a little while.
Say yes more than you say no.
Be willing to get off schedule.
Let the floors be dirty.
Let dinner be late.
Enjoy them while you can, because as happiness expert Gretchen Rubin says: the days are long, but the years are short.
Older moms always told me I’d blink and my babies would be in college. They were right.
Ten years from now, I’ll be delivering my eight year-old to her college dorm. When I do, I want to look back and remember the many times I said yes, and the opportunities I snatched up because I knew all too well just how fleeting they were.