My Version of a Parenting Manual, Episode 1

The advice you want or need or maybe don’t, whatever, it’s cool.

Storytime:

The very first love-o-my-life was born in September of 2003.

When I was a kid, I loved my mom, I loved my siblings, I loved my friends – I thought I knew what love was. And I did, I knew what love for my family was, what platonic love was.

When I had my first real boyfriend, I thought I knew what love was. And I did, in a way, I knew what infatuation was, I knew what “puppy love” was.

When I got married, I thought I knew what love was. And I did, for real, I knew what romantic love was, what partnership was, and I learned how love can sometimes be an action, not a feeling. I knew what that kind of love was.

Then along came a boy, the most beautiful boy I’d ever laid eyes on. My tiny, skinny, pink, blue eyed, blonde haired cherub. Okay, so he wasn’t, then. He was a smushed up purplish raisin looking alien, at first. But he was perfect. And I learned what love is, fully, truly, for real. When I first saw him nothing else mattered. It was the most surreal time of my life. For an instant I forgot the difficult and painful high-risk pregnancy. I forgot about the sweat and tears of being 9 months along in the sweltering August heat. I forgot about the swelling, the constant peeing, the kicks to the bladder, the reflux. I forgot how scared I was because we were young and broke. I forgot that I’d just endured the most pain my body had ever dealt with, with an unmedicated, too-fast, bungled labour. This is the part where the in the Hallmark Special of my life there would be soft, heart-rending piano music that would make you cry, while perfect beams of light shone onto us from the light of a perfectly placed window. And angels would be singing, or some shit.

It was a moment in time that I will never forget and it was beautiful. Time didn’t stand still though, and then there were nurses needle pricks and baths and nursing instructions and hustle and bustle all around and then, suddenly, we were alone. Just him and I. And it was late, because he was born near 8 in the evening. I tried to sleep but I was both in pain and wound up. He slept, intermittently, he and I finally fell asleep near 3 in the morning. And at 4am, he was inconsolable. I didn’t know what to do. He wasn’t hungry, he wasn’t dirty, he wasn’t cold, he couldn’t be comforted. I was tired, but I knew I’d be tired, so I tried my best.

I didn’t realize that night that this would become my routine, that I was mother to a baby who was not only colicky but also had the most severe case of FOMO ever. He would fall asleep, and jerk awake 10 minutes later looking like he just slammed back an energy drink and was ready to rock. He wanted to see everything. I slept an average of 2 hours a day for the first few weeks. I have photos of myself from this time where I look either barely alive, or undead. My entire existence revolved around this tiny person, the love-o-my-life. When he was about 4 weeks old, and my mother was visiting, she told me to go have a nap, I crashed for 8 hours. Literally, crashed. Could not wake up, my body was done.

Months of 2 – 4 hours of broken sleep a day became my normal. I barely remember that first year. Sure, I remember fleeting moments, feelings, the general way that things were. I do not remember day to day. I had horrible untreated postpartum depression, I didn’t even realize since I’d heard the “baby blues” meant you didn’t bond with your baby. I bonded to him like nothing else, he was my sun and moon and all the stars in the sky, to me.

The second love-o-my-life arrived when our oldest was 2 years and 5 months, almost to the day. February, 2006 – he was due on Valentine’s Day which I thought was such a sweet thing. After another difficult pregnancy, bedrest (hahahahaha…ahaha… bedrest with a 2-year-old doesn’t happen), this boy was born shortly after 3am, delivery was easy, all seemed well. Again, he was perfect, and again I was amazed at the amount of love I felt for this tiny, wrinkly, loud and stinky human. Angels sang out an immaculate chorus, blah blah blah. But once again, he didn’t sleep. And I hadn’t slept. That’s the short story of how a nurse came to find me, at 6 in the morning, alone and sobbing with an inconsolable newborn. She asked me if I was okay, if I needed to “see someone” for my mental health. Hyperventilating by this point, I choked out, “He… won’t… *sob* sleep and *sob* I’m… just… so… *sob* so… tiiiiired!”

See, for the first few years of my kid’s lives, that’s what I was. Tired. So tired. Physically, mentally exhausted. I wouldn’t have traded those kids for anything in the world and I loved them more than I ever thought it was possible to love. But it was so incredibly damn hard, and I struggled a lot.

So, now in the handheld digital era, I see new parents who feel like they have to filter and fix up their lives for social media. Post the adorable pictures of that 5 minutes where your baby isn’t screaming, strategically move those piles of laundry, dishes, toys… filter, filter, filter. You filter your emotions, you filter your situation, you filter your photos.

Which brings me to my peeve. When I see a mom post that she’s exhausted because she was up with a puking baby all night and still had to get her older child off to school, when I see a mom post that she’s at wits end because the kids won’t stop fighting, or that her own personal whirlwind of destruction has sharpy’d the walls, smeared ketchup on the carpet, flooded the toilet, destroyed an expensive TV… and butchered the baby’s hair, I inevitably see a response summing up this sort of sentiment:

The hardest thing about raising kids, is not being able to fully appreciate it until it’s gone… Yeah, infants make us all redefine what it means to be tired… and yeah, toddler’s are batshit crazy, but damn those morning toddler snuggles are the best… and those moments rocking that tiny infant to sleep only lasts for so long. Time flies. Don’t forget to enjoy what you have.

Source – UnPerfect Parenting, according to the image, whoever that is.

Far be it for me to shit on such a lovely sentiment as this. It’s got its merits, sure, and it’s got good intentions.

But here’s the thing – when my kids were small, I heard it all the time. “You’ll miss this later.” “Enjoy it while it lasts.” “Time flies.” “I know you don’t see it now, in the middle of it, but this is time to cherish.” I know that every single person that said some variation of these things meant well, that they were trying to offer me a new perspective, to help me see the bright side.

Now, I’ve gotta say… those things were not what I needed to hear at the time. Because:

  1. I guarantee you that every single parent who deals with a messy, loud, smelly, cranky, destructive, irrational toddler absolutely, without question cherishes those tender moments, those milestones, those smiles, those kisses, those cuddles. Those are the bright spots that make it all worthwhile.
  2. It causes anxiety and guilt. “Why am I not enjoying this?” and “Where is all the time going?”

These are the things I needed to hear:

  1. Hang in there. You’re doing your best and that’s enough.
  2. This, too, shall pass.
  3. You know, one day you might laugh about this.
  4. You don’t need to be perfect, no parent is perfect.
  5. It’s okay to need a break.
  6. Hey, sometimes kids are just assholes.

Honestly, these are the things that I say to new parents, because I so hated hearing “you’ll miss this one day.” Because you know what? I don’t miss it. I truly don’t. I don’t miss the sleepless nights, I don’t miss the constant conflicting and asinine advice, I don’t miss the screaming, the crying, the fighting, the destruction.

My kids are teenagers now. Every so often I feel a sentimental twinge, I wonder where the time went, I fondly remember times when my children snuggled me and held my hand and didn’t make faces when I hugged them in front of their friends. I remember the times when they told me anything and everything that was on their minds. I cherish those memories. Do I miss those things? Maybe a little, but not too much.

I don’t understand why, as a developmental period, there is such a fixation, such an infatuation with infancy.

The truth of the matter is, every stage is unique. From babyhood to toddlerhood, preschool to school-aged, pre-teens to teenagers. I have felt some of the greatest joy, the greatest sadness, the greatest anger, the greatest pride ever just being parent. And I learned to look forward, rather than back. Time and tide wait for no man, so they say. I have built memories with my kids, I’ve enjoy the present, I’ve looked forward to the future. The first love-o-my-life will be learning to drive this year and just secured his own job, all by himself. The second love-o-my life will be starting high school. I am proud of what they’ve achieved, I’m honoured to have been with them every step of the way. I’ve been there for their first steps, their first words, first haircuts. First days of school., first friendships, first lost tooth. I’ve also been there for pizza stuffed into the DVD player, what’s-in-your-mouth-where-did-you-get-that, permanent black marker all over the kitchen walls, tantrums, rudeness, and disobedience. Cuddles and kisses, hitting and crying.

Through it all, I love them more than anything else in the world, I have loved every stage of their development, and I’ve taken the bad with the good.

My niece, the best girl in the universe, is 2 years old now… and now I get to make new memories with her, and that’s grand. Trust me, there are always more babies to love on!

Don’t fret about time lost, about missing it, about being frazzled, about not always loving it. You’re not meant to, truly, you’re meant to hang on, to do your best, to enjoy the times you can, to make memories and build up good adults – that’s the end game.

And just remember:

You’ll be fine.

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