I remember the day I discovered I was pregnant with my first child. I was only taking the test to confirm that indeed I wasn’t pregnant so I could begin my cycle of birth control pills. I went off them for one month unintentionally. So along with my groceries I bought a home pregnancy test, came home, put the groceries away and went into the bathroom and peed on a stick. Immediately two dark blue lines appeared. As my eyes looked at the test in disbelief, inside my heart seemed to respond with less surprise. My body had been feeling odd for weeks and my nesting instincts were beginning to settle into the idea that our home would soon house three.
I called my husband into the bathroom too see. Now he, on the other hand, really didn’t believe it was true. One night of indiscrection? Are you kidding? We had only been married a year and children were still 3 years from our plan. He ran out and bought more tests which only gave proof to the first one. “Those things don’t lie about the positive results” became his motto about pregnancy. I think he was traumatized by the sight of that test. His life was moving at a pace he wasn’t equipped for, or so he thought.
Anyway, that was a small piece of the beginning of our story. 13 years, 3 houses and 3 children later we are still alive. It hadn’t killed us after all (but almost). In fact, it did make us stronger in every way. While simultaneously aging us in dog years, that is. And this random reflection came to me this morning because there has been a recent baby boom among a circle of old friends of mine whom I grew up with. These are the women who I’ve known intimately for the long haul. I realized over the years raising my children I have come to befriend many women based on our children in common in school and in my community. So I have taken for granted that most of those who surround me in my every day life are women who are experiencing motherhood alongside me. We share years of experience in common. Especially right here on my own block most of my neighbors have children who match the ages of all three of mine. We tend to relate (and communicate) to one another effortlessly about exactly what it is that’s going on with our children because we are all on the same parenting page.
As parenting pages go, while I’m on chapter 12, some of my dear friends are on chapter 2. And because I love these women so deeply I also love thier children. I’m happy for them and so excited. It all brings back some of the fondest, and most difficlut memories of my own early mommyhood experiences. But in this moment of right now, I truly can’t relate. I feel old and tired and truthfully a bit broken down by the years of carrying babies in my belly, of sleepless nights, backbreaking physical labor and multi-tasking my ass off every waking minute. Oh yes, it was a special time I’ll cherish in my heart forever, but as I remember it was not the baby bliss I had anticipated the nine months of my first pregnancy. As I’ve come to discover, the baby bliss part is reserved for proud grandparents who get to have and hold – and hand right back when the going gets tough.
I have a good friend who’s pregnant with her fourth, and at present she has a 1, 3 and 5-year-old. Does she really know what she’s signing up for? How deep she’s really in? How much responsibility she’s taking on? The care and feeding is the easy part, and at these early ages anyone can step in and cover that. What I have come to learn is the hard part of parenting is about discipline, following through, holding ground, sticking to a routine and taking time with each and every child to help them shape their individuality. I had always been able to keep my children together when they were small as a group. They were my little ducks who followed me everywhere. But eventually they began to grow into seperate individuals with prefereces, learning styles, and most noticably, sometimes requiring individualized discipline strategies. Responding to these unique endowments is all on a parent’s shoulders. Not just anyone can step in and effectively handle situations dealing with issues of a child’s heart and mind and developing world view.
The point in which I realized this, or more accurately during the bottom of every low point in parenting – I swallowed hard, began to sweat and felt the walls close in around me. No one could save me from this. No one else could take the reigns and cover me when I was spent. No one could give me the answers to the difficult questions. I have to figure it our myself.
I no longer keep toddlers safe, healthy and fed. As tiring as that was, it was a breeze compared to shaping character. Being a good parent takes everything you have to give and then some. There is no time to squander, no break, no escape. While allowing yourself time to rejuvinate is important and essential to the well-being of any parent, the work will still be waiting. Housework. Homework. Meeting the demands of the schedules of each individual. Unlike when you have little ones, when children are older you can’t have a bad morning then just wipe the slate clean after a long, refreshing nap.
And as much as I remember the pride I felt during my children’s preschool years when I would parade them through the halls dressed adorably having sweet little conversations about the garden in the playgound and new friends and finger-paintings, that feeling of joy as a parent was based on the innocence and sweetness of very small children. It was also based on my dream that those darling conversations would continue on forever. That my children would always find contentment with the activities I provided for them and meals I prepared for them. Places we went together. Routines I set.
As kids grow up your control over small things starts to slip while you must simultaneously find the fortitude to control things that turn your kids into unbearable monsters who think you’re “the worst mom ever.” They no longer cry and forget. You can’t mend the pain with a popsicle the way you once did. Things get ugly. Sibling rivalry grows intense. It becomes a forum for the unleashing of every inappropropriate word they lave learned on t.v. and the playground. This is no longer the tone of sweet banter over a pack of fruit snacks with Little Bear whistling in the background. Little tantrums on time-out steps suddenly seem like the good old days when your two big kids are throwing down over the Wii remote or one is determined to punish everyone in her path because she is grounded.
My point is not that I hate parenthood. I don’t. Do I love it? Not always. But I love my children more than anything in the world. I accept it for what it is and do my best to fulfill my responsibility as the best mom I can be. But I can say this: When my daughters are grown there is one very solid piece of advice I will give them on the matter of becoming a mother:
Look before you leap. Be very sure that you choose to have a child more so for what you are willing to give to that child than what you hope that child can give to you. Because what will be required in the giving department will be in all the years up front.
The getting back comes only after you’ve done your job well.