“Why do I have to go to school everyday?” complains my six-year-old daughter, on our walk there. Before I know it, I find myself repeating the same thing my mom told me countless times, “You’d better enjoy these years because these are the best years of your life. You don’t have to work or pay bills. Your only job is to play and learn.”
By the time we reach the school steps I realize that she hasn’t said anything in a while. “What’s wrong?” I ask.
“You said these are my best years, and it makes me sad to grow up.”
Hunh?! Where did that come from?
“Go to school, we’ll talk about it later,” I tell her.
I walk home thinking about this concept of ‘our best years.’ If we’re living the best years right now, why would we ever want to move to the next stage?
Raising kids is tricky.
It brings to mind something that my neighbor is always telling me. “Enjoy these years,” he says, sounding like the prophet of doom, “they are the best.” My girls are six and three while he has a house full of teens. Christ! Is that what I have to look forward to? Sounds like misery…
But thinking about it, it was the same when my girls were babies. Inevitably, there was always some well-meaning person who would stop and say, “Ooh, you’d better enjoy these years, next are the terrible twos!”
Alright. I can clearly see the limits of claiming the best years as right now, and I understand why my daughter would prefer to stay in kindergarten forever, but it leaves me wondering, what are the best years?
I’ve heard people saying, ‘the best years are yet to come,’ and I’ve actually said it myself. When I’m roasting in the now, looking ahead is the only thing that keeps me sane, and like many, I visualize the future that I want.
“See it, taste it, feel it!” say the self-help and spiritual gurus. Honestly, it makes me feel good for a short while, but it’s hard to sustain. Let’s face it, when you come out of a meditation and those bills are still breathing down your neck, at some point you start feeling silly. So I’m not so sure the best years are in the future.
So if the best years are not in the present, and they are not in the future, could they be in the past?
I start looking. Funny enough, things start opening up. Like in high school when I won homecoming queen, but also got busted selling essays to my fellow classmates the same year. Best days. And college when I got my first car and also gained those freshman 15 pounds. Best days. There’s also meeting my husband, the book deal that didn’t happen, friendships that soured and soared, an eviction, and so many things good and bad that make me actually smile today. I even brag about some of them–Remember when I paid the rent with the pennies from my piggy bank? Those were the days!
It’s kinda crazy because it seems that all of my best years are in the past. Why?
Maybe it’s the only place that we have perspective. They do say, ‘Time is the other name of God.’ Enough time has passed that we can appreciate the great times, but also the challenges that forced us to step up and out, that ultimately didn’t kill us, but caused us to become greater.
So what am I going to tell my daughter?
I’m going to tell her that it’s my bad. That it’s not up to me or anyone else to tell her what her best years are. One day, when she’s all grown up, she can look back at all of it and decide for herself. So in the meantime, just really enjoy today.
This article first appeared on Madamenoire 12/30/15