My husband watched as I tossed a Real Simple magazine and three paperback mysteries into the canvas tote, which already held a ridiculous floppy hat, a fabulous pair of earrings, a blow-dryer, a bottle of gin, four limes and an industrial-sized bag of tortilla chips.

“Someone’s feeling optimistic,” he said.

It was Tuesday, and we were packing for a week at Lake Chelan.

If I’d decided what to pack based on reality — based on what I would actually need on this trip and not on some aspirational, alternate universe — there’d be no magazines, no blow-dryer. My bag would be all Goldfish Crackers, Otter Pops and Benadryl cream. Children are always itchy and hungry on summer vacation, and in this universe, I have two small children.

My children might be itchy and hungry at this very moment, though I wouldn’t know. Today, while my husband took the kids to Slidewaters, I took myself down to a coffee shop. I told him I needed to get some work done, but he knows what this really is. This is hiding.

I am hiding because this has so far not been a paperback-in-the-sun sort of trip. This has been a rain-soaked, mudslide-over-the-highway kind of trip. The kids are claustrophobic and whiny. The dog is freaked out here, away from home, and he stinks of wet fur. As I wiped up a juice spill on the kitchen floor last night and listened to the sounds of rain and bickering, I decided I needed a break.

Now, though, sitting here in this air-conditioned coffee shop, enjoying a latte and a quiet respite from their constant questions and the screaming urgency of every splinter and skinned knee, I know I should be with my daughters. Even in moments like this, when I am worn out and tired of being Mom and just want to be alone, my heart is tethered to those girls.

And a realization comes to me in flashes: All of this is fleeting. It’s the same flash that passes between old women and harried young mothers, when the one says to the other in the grocery store check-out line: “Enjoy this age. They grow up so fast.” It’s the bittersweet knowledge that parents of grown children know for sure.

Anna Quindlen once wrote that her biggest mistake as a mother was not living in the moment enough when her kids were young.

“This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs,” she wrote.

“There is one picture of the three of them sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 6, 4, and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.”

Sometimes I need a reminder to slow down and just enjoy this time in my family’s life, to let go of the perfect (perfect weather, perfect vacations) and notice the good. I needed that reminder today. Maybe some other parents reading this could use it, too.

There’s music playing in this coffee shop. Paul Simon is singing about life slip slidin’ away. I could sit here a while longer, make up some important things to do on my laptop. But just up the road from here, my girls are back from the water slides and jumping off a dock without me, and I ought to get back to them.

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