Birthdays are always a reminder of the passing time, the embrace of another year. Having four kids means there are more birthdays, and each one brings about a feeling of nostalgia, a lust for time to stand still if only for an instant. Not always, but often, I will catch myself in awe of a moment in time. In all its messy beauty, like a finger painting from a 3 year old, a spotted treasure. There are certain moments where time swells, and you can feel the pause in the film where you get to take it all in.

Their little faces are aglow from the shine of their candles. All eyes are on them, and they’re staring back at the joyful expression of every person they know loves them. The celebration is to welcome the passing of a full year of their life and to honor the incredible opportunity to do it again. The singing stops, and we meet eyes for a split second before they’re reminded to “make a wish.” Their eyes close, and I stare at them, in all their radiant beauty, as the light from the candles go out. Time stands still, and my memory logs a moment in time that I want to save forever.

Sometimes my boy’s childhood feels like watching a VHS tape, I’m front row, watching through sepia tone, at the most sentimental moments of my life. I always wonder which parts they are going to remember or which moments will be the ones that stick. The ones that are most overpowering to me are often the moments they don’t even know are happening.

I find myself staring, my head on a swivel, taking in the sights. The deep cheek dimple, the sticky fingers reaching across the table for a hand full of scrambled egg, the reveal of the “guess the soccer player” game causing jubilation, the sound of a sports commentator from a T.V. in the room over, the, “mom, mom, mom, mom.”

When I shuffle sleepily to each of their rooms, the house quiet. I pull their blankets up to cover their arms and tussle their hair with my fingers. I admire their cheeks and their eye lashes, and I whisper to God and the Universe to cradle them in safety and happiness and warmth.

When I watch them struggle with a challenge for weeks or months on end, my mind running rampant wanting to protect and shelter them. And then through perseverance and time and effort, they resolve it on their own, and their character builds. Do they know when they score the goal, or make the friend, or say the word, or take the step, that I’m watching? That I’m beaming with pride and jumping for joy? Do they notice the way I figuratively collapse to my knees in my soul as my mind captures the moment forever?

When they do something kind, for each other or for others. When they stop to help a kid they barely know, when they choose to make someone feel less alone, when they give grace to me when I fall short. When I bear witness to them making the hard choice or taking the path less trodden. When they speak up and show tenderness and strength, I’m noticing.

Do they know that when I drop them off to school, I stare at them walking until I can’t see them anymore? That I’m the parent that holds up the car line? Last week, I realized from afar that Hudson’s shoe came untied. In that second, did Jaxon know that I saw him bend down to re-tie his brother’s shoe? That it comforted me? That I caught my breath?

When they’re going about their business, in their little routines, do they know my brain is storing their seemingly mundane moments as core memories? As the souvenirs from my life that I would most like to keep? When Leo is trying to jump in the kitchen but can’t get off the ground, when Beckham lays down beside me and lifts his shirt for a back scratch, when Hudson looks up at me in the car and we share a closed-lip “sweet” smile, when Jaxon tells me all about his day from the walk from pick up to the car and all the way home.

The way each of them reaches for my hand, their little fingers laced uniquely around mine. The way they get frustrated so differently. Their different limits. The feeling of their hugs as their hands wrap around my back. The way each of them looks at me from across the room or the field or the parking lot.

I keep journals to them that it seems I have less and less time to write in. Will they read them one day through tear-filled eyes and envision me using my only spare 15 minutes to tell them about the funny thing they said when they were three?

Will I get a pardon for the times I overreacted and yelled about something that didn’t matter? Will they choose to see me instead for all of the times that I made them belly laugh after bath time or was patient in a melt down or laid awake as they tossed and turned in my arms?

As they grow, every version of them that I have ever known makes my heart swell with pride and a rare type of heartache. It’s pure and bittersweet and nothing short of magic. I wish they could see themselves through my eyes if only for a moment and witness the love and growth and wonder. I wish they could innately understand the meaning their existence has in defining mine. Being their mom is the greatest honor of my life and the fleeting moments, the sound of their giggles and the look in their eyes when they see me, are the things I’d most like to remember and will tuck away to keep.

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