Mono No Aware

“Mono No Aware” is a Japanese word that means an awareness of the impermanence of things and a gentle wistfulness at their passing.

I came across this word recently in a book I was reading, and I love the complexity and truth of its meaning. Not simply an awareness of the passing of time, not sadness or nostalgia, but something a little more delicate and bittersweet. I love “a gentle wistfulness at their passing.”

This is what it means to be a mother.

I remember feeling this acutely when Oscar was a newborn and I would nurse him in the rocker, watching the sunrise and feeling exhausted and elated at the same time. I whispered to myself over and over, this time will be so short, and it will never come again.

I was comforted with thinking that maybe this wasn’t the last time. As Oscar outgrew each stage I enjoyed the moment, but thought, probably recklessly, that we would be here again, with “the next one.” In fact, I never felt a sense that time was passing too quickly, and it’s only when I look at photographs that I realize that Oscar is no longer a baby. Now, when he climbs into my lap he’s all elbows and angles and bruised shins and dirty feet and dusty hair.

And now I have Aria. She is “the next one” and probably “the last one.” This time I know it’s going by fast. Too fast.

Yet, there is no alternative. Time flies. The alternative is a frozen childhood, but that means death, which is much, much worse. Life means moving forward swiftly and irrevocably, and we cannot hold onto it. The passing of time is “Mono No Aware.” It is beautiful, inevitable, and exciting, but also bittersweet and a little wistful.

I am the mother of two small children. It is exhausting and overwhelming and I love every minute of it. Every day, every minute, I soak it in. The sights, sounds, and smells. The gentle neediness of small hands, sticky fingers, Oscar pulling me down for a third kiss goodnight, Aria snuggling up to me in bed to nurse at 5:00 A.M. The way Aria smells, and the sound of Oscar talking to himself as he plays with his little cars. It will all be gone in the blink of an eye, but no matter what I do, I can’t grasp it and contain it.

Like the changing of the seasons. I will mourn the loss of summer at the same time I turn my face up to admire the autumn leaves.