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The Math of Motherhood :: A Closer Look at the ‘Days Are Long But Years Are Short’ Concept

I once heard it explained that it feels like each year of your life goes by a little faster than the one before it for a simple mathematical reason: each subsequent year is a smaller percentage of your overall life. When you’re five, a year is 20% of your entire concept of time. By the time you’re 30, a year is about 3.3% of your entire existence. And by the time you’re 80? It’s a mere 1.25%. The days are long, but the years really are getting shorter and shorter in relation to your overall time on earth.

That was a lot of numbers for one paragraph, but hang with me here. I recently read a post (warning: language) that provided a visual representation of an average life. We feel like we have forever, but the author of the post demonstrated that simply isn’t true. For example, if the 34-year-old author lives until 90 and reads five books for pleasure a year, he will only read approximately 300 more books in his lifetime. Three hundred books out of 130 million. Choose wisely.

Bummed out yet? HANG WITH ME.

The days are long but the years are short.  Seriously short.

I have thought about that post every single day since I read it. But far more important than books, I’ve thought about it in relation to my children’s lives. My oldest is four years old. If he lives in our home until he’s 22 (could be 18, could be 26 . . . Who knows really?), here’s a visual representation of how much time we have left under the same roof.

Eighteen percent of that time is already gone.

Then I thought about it in relation to my entire life. I have two children. If they each live at home until they are 22, that means I will have my children in my house from 2013 – 2037. The average life expectancy for a woman in the United States is 86.6, but let’s be really generous and say I’ll live until 93. Good genes or whatever.

Here’s a visual representation of how long children will live in my home compared to an entire lifetime.

I have two lines of blue dots left, and then it’s all red dots. A quiet, clean home without toys or crayons or bedtime battles.  Without tickles and giggles and silly songs and finger-painted refrigerator art. I suddenly understand why empty-nesters warn us to enjoy these moments. The red dots are coming, and they are coming far too soon.

And these charts don’t even consider the other “milestones.” I’m probably 75% done physically carrying my four-year-old when he’s tired. I’m probably 50% done with him wanting to hold my hand and give me hugs and kisses in public.

Why does this matter?

I had strep throat this week, and I felt pretty terrible. (Why is strep throat so debilitating as an adult?!) Anyway, as you likely know, you are no longer contagious a full day after starting antibiotics, but you still feel run down. It was fall break. My kids were non-stop energy from sun up to sun down—and then some. For two days, we stayed inside because I just couldn’t hang.

But then, on the third day, I took 800 mg ibuprofen, got presentably dressed, and made the most of my blue dot time. We hit up the Chick-fil-A play area, rode bikes to the neighborhood playground, went to a pumpkin patch, got pizza and dessert at a restaurant for dinner, and ended the evening with even more playground time. I thought I’d fall over dead by the end of it. But instead, I saw two extremely happy boys with full hearts and tired eyes. They slept like rocks, and so did I. Like a really happy, really tired rock.

I want to live every blue dot day like I know the red dot days are coming. I want to pray over them more. Have random, silly conversations. Dance parties. Impromptu mommy/son dates. Push them in the swings. Read them one more bedtime story. Hug them tighter.

And when the monotony and overwhelming chaos of motherhood somehow collide and leave me burned out and exhausted, I want to look at these charts again and remember: Red dots are coming. And perhaps I will welcome that rest a little more if I know I’ve made the absolute best of all of these blue dot days.

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