If you know me in real life, you likely know this truth.
I often get lost when I’m driving.
I am okay at reading directions, yes. And I am okay at following directions. But it takes me a long to graduate from absolutely needing directions to not needing them and, thus, feeling comfortable within new destinations.
I don’t naturally have that “sense” that good drivers have, the one that whispers in their subconscious, telling them “I know where I am and, thus, can find where I need to go” even though they may be in a place where they don’t exactly know where they are.
My husband is one of those drivers. He pays attention to his surroundings all the time, even when he’s a passenger in a car. So when he drives somewhere and accidentally makes a wrong turn, he can usually figure out how to get where he wants to go just based off of memory and that “sense,” you know, the one good drivers have.
I wasn’t born with that sense.
I’ve known this for a long time but I don’t think I’ve ever made it a point to process this fact until last month. I was driving somewhere at the time. I had driven to this place at least five times. And I’d been driven, as a passenger in a car, to this place over 30 times, at least.
Though, when I got in the car on this day to drive to this place I should have known, I needed directions. So I used my GPS and as is usual, at this one turn, the same turn as the other five times I traveled to this place, I got lost.
My GPS tried getting me back on track, but it failed.
So there I was in a place that felt both familiar and not familiar at the same time. And I kept telling myself, “I know this place. I’ve seen this street. I think.” I had seen that street and been to that place, though, connecting it all in my brain felt impossible.
I realized then why this always happens to me. When I am driving, I don’t focus as much on trying to make those kinds of connections that would help me on future trips. I focus on the road, yes, and my traveling speed, yes, and what my GPS tells me, yes. But I rarely move beyond that information to make the kinds of overarching placement connections that good drivers make. Instead of doing that mental work, I live in the moment, driving to the “music” of my navigation, doing as she says all while focusing on other things that make my drive enjoyable. Make sense? So, when driving I may see a pretty building and I’ll internalize that and think, “Oh, how pretty!” And I’ll turn down that road with the street sign in front of the building but all the while, I’m not just looking at the sign but at the building too and how I feel in seeing it. So when I’m back in that place, say a week later, it’s the building that I’ll remember first and then hopefully the sign, too.
I was reminded of this yesterday in thinking about my children’s milestones.
I used to obsess over and live for milestones. With my first daughter, I used to anticipate them, mourn when they came, write them here and elsewhere, and wait anxiously for the next ones to come. Then a new one would come and I would dread the pending arrival of the next. I lived for milestones to tell me that, as a parent, I was doing something right, that we were traveling in the “right” direction. I would always make connections between each milestone and it’s relationship to the massive idea that my baby was no longer going to be a baby one day, that one day she’d grow, one day this would all end.
It was sad, really, this way of living, this very anxious and fearful way of living.
But then when I had second daughter and my first exited babyhood into toddlerhood, I learned that growing up isn’t that scary of a thing since there are always even more wonderful things that await the children who can grow. So, I changed and remained changed when I had my third daughter.
My third daughter got her first teeth nearly a month ago. There’s two on top and her bottom gums are swollen with teeth waiting to pop up and out. It wasn’t just a getting-first-teeth milestone that we crossed, however. In the same week as when those teeth made their arrival. She started waving. Her hair grew into this (even more) giant curly mass. She started crawling faster, standing on things, clapping her hands, really using her pincher grasp, dancing, and saying words (kind of).
No matter how many times I do this, or repeat these same milestones, they always feel new to me, kind of like those roads I travel down in familiar yet unfamiliar territory. Even though this is my third trip with my third daughter down “babyhood” lane, it still feels new, familiar, but new. And they (the milestones, I mean) even if not always memorialized remain meaningful and important to me.
Time in motherhood has taught me this:
Everyday your children grow up.
I know that as I write this, as my three babies sleep, they are each working on doing something amazing that once it’s done it will seem as though it came out of nowhere.
I could focus on making the connections between all the smaller signs leading to the amazing upcoming “milestone,” that next tooth, that next social skill, that next fine-motor development, but I don’t want to.
I’m having so much fun in this moment to do that. Like my car drives, in motherhood, I try to remain focused on how this feels, their smiles, our laughter, and all the other things that make this moment enjoyable, heartfelt.
I focus on this moment, this one I can touch, breathe in, feel in, this moment right now, because it’s really all we’ve got, right? Tomorrow is gone. Yesterday may not come. But this? This is here and so am I.
Once day, I will remember them for what they’re worth, meaningful markers, signs directing me to a destination that seems far from right now. I will be thankful for the ones I have recorded, yes, but more so I imagine I will be thankful for all the memories made along the journey, the ones that were like that pretty tree near that street sign, meaningful not just for where they got us to but for how they made us feel.
Oh, and along with defining my inability to follow driving directions and take on my children’s milestones, being guided by “how I feel” when going places is the reason I accidentally ran a half marathon last month.
I intended to run a 10k, but I took the path of the half marathon runners. I only realized my error at mile 9. Yes, I know. “But, Jessica, a 10k is only about 6 miles!” I know. And I knew that then. But I was having so much fun, being outside, running, jamming to my music that I didn’t pay attention until mile 9. Once I realized that my running path was going deeper out of civilization, and after my sister called to tell me she completed her 10k race, I wanted to cry in a forest. But I didn’t do that. I just kept running until the end.
Do you document all of your children’s milestones?