I sat staring at them as they ate dinner, not saying a thing. I’d been contemplating something, but it mustn’t have been too important because it jumped the train and left me alone, just staring at them.

“What’s wrong, Mom?” one asked.

“Nothing, sweetheart,” I answered.

“Why are you staring at us like that?” another asked.

“Cause I love you,” I answered.

They turned back to their food, and everyone continued eating, exchanging jokes, and sharing youtube surprises on their cell phones. Three different conversations were going on at once, and it seemed impossible to understand who was referring to what, but they understood each other.

I looked at the table and the floor and noted how many hours it would take me to clean everything, and I wanted to nag, ask them to be neater, but I stayed silent because I knew my breath would be wasted.

I was remembering them as infants and toddlers, the joys and difficulties of each phase, and thought, “It’s probably not as bad as I feel sometimes. It’s just me fighting these final ones that make it harder.”

They asked me a question, and because I didn’t hear it correctly, the jokes began, and I wanted to nag, ask them to be more respectful, but I stayed silent because I knew my breath would be wasted.

My mother would say my quietness this evening is a lack of parenting, but she doesn’t understand that being quiet is also part of parenting, part of allowing them to be heard and part of letting go.

Silence is one of my more challenging difficulties, but when I find it, I’m able to see better how they create their own joy, and not interfere when I’m unable to relate to what makes them smile.

This aspect of dinner moves the quickest as the crescendo takes place with everyone in the kitchen, the serving moment. When I was a kid, I saw movies where the food was brought to the table in serving dishes, everyone sat down, said prayers, and ate with decorum and polite conversation. I tried to emulate that when they were younger because it seemed so warm, and sometimes it was. Serving dishes at the table are not common anymore, nor is holding hands and saying prayers. I remind them to give thanks, and they do, but it doesn’t feel the same. They don’t want to do it but do to please me, so it’s rare to ask these days, where I focus more on just asking them to be thankful.

They get up and take their dishes to the kitchen, and I get up to clean. Still, I haven’t said much. My oldest comes in as I’m clearing the counter to hug me, I smile and kiss his cheek, and he responds with “Yuck, Mom, come on!” before wiping it off with theatrics and walking away. A moody child, I find extra gratitude at this moment, because what was once common is no longer.

Later that evening they were arguing and asked me to intervene, but I looked at them, smiled and said, “It’s just a phase,” before walking to my room and closing the door. The thought comforted me and allowed me to see them where they are, instead of subconsciously unwinding their growth, or desiring them to return to the womb, where protection was naturally inborn.

When it was time for bed, it dawned on me that every phase of life has its joys and difficulties and that being a parent involves seizing them and attempting to make them joyful.

Sometimes parents sleep with a heavy heart, but my wish is that we remain comforted by knowing it’s only a phase and that if we seek comfort and peace, then this is what will be found.