On Being a Mother and a Time Traveler


The problem with getting older is that we only have our youth to compare it to.

I look in my bathroom mirror, leaning gingerly over the dried toothpaste on my right and the puddle of what I hope is water on my left, and I blink mascara onto my lashes, stopping to study the fine lines and scars in magnified detail and to pluck some wandering eyebrow hairs from my chin. I lean back and notice my breasts are at half mast, and I see my stretch marks which always look like they made a poorly organized break for freedom but didn’t know which way to run and so have tripped over each other — splat! —  into a tangled, sprawling mess.

I typically don’t spend much brain power tearing my appearance down. That’s a serious time commitment, and, frankly, I’d rather waste my energy vying for a turn on the toilet. But sometimes, every once in a while, when I isolate things in the mirror, I sigh and grieve a little.

That’s when I get in my time machine and travel.

Not to my 20’s, like you might expect, to reminisce and remember.

No. I travel from my future, back in time, to right now.

I imagine myself as an old woman with all of her knowledge and secrets of the way this life went. The unexpected tragedies that shook our very foundations. The triumphs of enduring them and bearing witness to each other along the journey. The family who’s left. The abiding ache of loss echoed in the pain of my bones. Contentment and restlessness, my longtime companions.

I imagine queuing in the line at the time travel terminal, pausing to lean on my smooth, polished cane, showing my ticket to the agent at the door, and boarding the machine to travel to now.

I imagine arriving quietly, on an unseasonably hot spring day, and watching from the back gate of this house I used to own. This house where I built these memories. This house where these memories built me.

I imagine watching Young Me and our children in secret so I don’t disrupt the time continuum. I watch the popsicles dripping. The water spraying. The kids screaming in happiness and fury.

I imagine right now as a memory.

I look at my skin and deeper, and I think, How young! How lovely. Isn’t it strange that I used to see your flaws? 

And at Greg who isn’t really going grey yet, strong and tall.

I look at my parents sitting at the patio table, my dad laughing too loudly with his beer in a glass, never in the bottle, and mom with her sweet white wine. Mobile. Alive. Full of history and stories I didn’t tap while I had the chance, and I wonder why I squandered the time.

Then I watch Young Me wiping bottoms and tying laces and grabbing snacks and grabbing at sanity and yes-ing and no-ing all at once, and I remember, Oh. That’s why.

I look at my kids, and I try to memorize them. Each face. Each feature. Each gesture.

Oh, yes, I think, this is what you look like when you were six and running to me, hard head hitting my gut and stepping on my toes because you hug so recklessly. I remember the pattern of your freckles. 

I breathe the air and my young mama exhaustion; it’s sweeter, coming from the future. And I forgive myself my petty frustrations because it’s plain that I knew. I knew this was my kids’ only childhood, and I spent my time trying to give them a good one.


Clock image credit to Salvatore Vuono via freedigitalimages.net

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40 responses to “On Being a Mother and a Time Traveler”

  1. I loved this! I time travel too. I always think about moments being memories but writing it down and reading it is beautiful. Thank you! I’m expecting #5 now and can hardly know what to expect. All I know is I’m so blessed and will figure it out as it happens! Yikes! And Amen!

  2. What a capturing piece of writing. It really tugged at my heart strings. Fantastic work ! I’ve never thought of traveling to the future and back again . That would make more sense to do, that way you come back with all the knowledge of the world.

  3. It is funny how the universe somehow finds a way to put things in your life all at once to help you make sense of the things going on in your life. I had a baby a few months ago, and I am still struggling with getting my hormones in check. I have had a lot of days where I just can’t focus on the things that matter….But I have found out a friend’s family member may lose her 4 month old baby today (from complications of the flu–I guess that still can happen), and this week a high school class mate’s husband died and left her behind with 3 small children.
    I know looking at your current life from the future can help put things in perspective and your post plus all of the things going on around me this week, are helping me to see this. Thank you.

  4. This is so beautiful, and gave me a much needed good hard ugly cry. My kids are trying to figure out what’s wrong with me right now–I can’t stop squeezing them and making them promise to always be my babies. Thank you for sharing this, putting into words a perspective I’ve been trying to find myself lately. So so good.

  5. I do this! I really do! I would never have described it so eloquently and thinking of it with your description makes it feel so much sweeter. Doing this is how I think I went from being a crazed new mom to a mom who can handle (eventually) the things that come along. It gives me patience (mostly because I don’t want my future self to witness my present self having a wild hissy fit at somebody – though if I hit the right day, I would see just that).

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