The Problem with Soaking It Up

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Soak it up, the radio DJ told me yesterday afternoon while I drove home after dropping Teddy off at school. The weather was warm and lovely and delicious, a rare treat for November in Chicago. Soak it up, she said. We’ll miss this weather in a few months. 

After I pulled into the driveway, I sat in the car for a few minutes, like I often do. I scrolled through Facebook and took a few deep breaths. These moments – several minutes, really – are a guilty pleasure of mine. As soon as I walk back in the house, I know the tasks and chores will beckon me. The dogs need a walk. Laundry should be folded. Mail needs sorting. Emails wait for a response. But for now, with these few minutes in the driveway, I adjust to the quiet, to the solitude, to the in-between.

Eventually I turned off the car and went inside. I responded to the emails that required a reply. I read a few articles online. I finished a work project. I put leashes on the dogs, and we headed out into the bright sunshine. We slowed our gait a bit. We took our time, crunching leaves along the way. I let them sniff the trees a little longer than usual.

Soak it up. We will miss this.

After school, the boys and I went to the park for the first time in ages. They ran after their friends, wildly calling out to each other with strange caw-caw shrieks. I sat on the bench, alone, and watched them. I looked at my phone now and then. I snapped a few pictures. I reminded myself to soak it up, but even as I mentally acknowledged the rare treat yesterday afternoon was – warm weather and nowhere to be – I knew that the acknowledgement wasn’t enough. I knew that, regardless of any soaking it up, I will still look back one day and miss this: the warm weather, the falling leaves, the quiet bench, the squeals and giggles. I will miss this.

It is human nature, I think, to miss what we no longer have, to yearn for the past, to regret a bit. The scales weigh more heavily toward the longing for what was than appreciating what is. This isn’t necessarily a flaw and fault to be corrected; we humans are calibrated for rosy hindsight, to miss things after they are gone in a way that we could not have prevented with any amount of in-the-moment pleasure. In other words, we can soak it up all we want, but it doesn’t ward off the missing that will come when it’s gone.

“I miss my boobs,” wrote a friend who recently underwent a bilateral mastectomy. “I never appreciated them when I had them.”

“Do we ever really appreciate something like we should before it’s gone?” I wrote back, knowing that her answer would undoubtedly be in the negative.

Earlier this week I emailed a woman from church to tell her that I couldn’t make a workshop this weekend. After an October so busy it left me breathless and behind on just about everything, with little more than a gallon of milk three-weeks past its expiration date in my fridge, I was cautious about overextending myself and my family.

“We have a basketball game and a birthday party at the same time,” I told her as a way of justifying my absence, of assuaging some of the guilt that I felt for not being able to do allthethings and be alltheplaces.

She understood, of course, and assured me that there will be other workshops. “I miss the busy mom days,” she wrote.

She didn’t tell me to soak it up. She didn’t tell me to slow down, or remind me to appreciate these days. And she didn’t offer the dreaded “Enjoy it! It goes so fast!” advice that makes parents of young kids want to scream. She simply acknowledged that she missed these days. And with those humble words, she put things into perspective in a way that reminders to soak it up and appreciate it and enjoy it while it lasts never seem to do. She simply stated a truth – a truth that is so easy to miss in all the running around and fretting about whether we’re raising good and kind kids and worrying that we’re somehow falling short because we aren’t always soaking it up – and that is: I will miss this.

Even in the midst of these days of madness and chaos, of simultaneous birthday parties and basketball games, of forgotten lunch boxes and homework battles, of bedtimes that end too late and mornings that begin too early, of tears and tantrums and so much noise, I know I will someday look back on this season of life with fondness and wonder and awe. I will miss these days.

And yet.

I appreciate my life with a depth that is overwhelming at times. I remind myself that life is good even when it doesn’t seem like it. And I try to soak it up as best I can. But is this enough to ward off the inevitable missing and longing, the glowing nostalgia and sorrowful regrets that will come?

Maybe we’re hard-wired to miss what was. Maybe it’s a coping mechanism. Maybe if we really appreciated what a wild and special life this is, we would crumble under the weight of that realization. Maybe we can only soak up so much.

As Emily asked in Our Town, “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?” Is it possible to appreciate something enough? To soak it up until we’re fully saturated and dripping with it? To put on our rose-colored glasses of hindsight now instead of later?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Already the lovely, warm weather of yesterday is slipping away. The clouds have moved in. Rain is in tonight’s forecast. Before long the ground will be covered in silky white and, soon after, gray piles of icy snow will line the streets. Before I could knew it, yesterday’s lazy, playful afternoon turned into an evening of hollering to stop bickering already! and nagging the bigger one to do his homework and listening to the younger one cry over a broken down blanket fort. I know all too keenly that my kids will grow several inches in the blink of an eye and, before I can catch my breath from these busy mom days, they will be teenagers driving themselves to basketball games and parties.

I know this. And I bet that you do too.

I will miss these warm fall days. And I will miss this season of life.

I can soak up as much as I can, but I will still miss it.

Well, I probably won’t miss the bickering. But everything else. I will miss everything else.

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