3 Things Every Parent Should Know About the Baby Stage

For 6 years I had a toddler or infant in the house. Now, nearing my 7th year as a parent — with a newly minted 3-year-old, a 5-year-old, and a nearly-7-year-old — I can reflect with greater clarity on that precious, wholly exhausting, messy, beautiful time. In doing so I’ve discovered 3 important things every parent should know about the baby stage.

IMG_20180627_132653_409.jpg

1. EVERYTHING IS TEMPORARY. If you haven’t yet learned that every single stage, phase, good time, rough patch, annoying habit, and terrifying challenge is temporary, you’re most certainly new to the parenting game. As soon as you gloat about your child’s brilliance at creating 3-word sentences well ahead of developmental norms, they’re licking the storefront window. As soon as you feel like your child will never poop in the potty, the digestive dilemma is no more. As soon as you wonder when you’ll ever get your body back, your child weans. As soon as you really begin enjoying the morning cuddle routine, it’s over and replaced with another habit. As soon as you begin to think you will never again not be a heap of saggy, leaking, oddly pillow-like human randomly crying into your 3-day-old breastmilk stained pajamas in a mixture of fear, deep sadness, exhaustion, and raging postpartum hormones, you exit the hole. As soon as you think, “Will these needy, week-long days ever end?” They’re over. All of it comes to an end; positive and challenging. And you may loathe reading this if you’re presently in the parenting trenches with no light peeking above your laundry piles of spit-up and diaper-blowout stained onesies, but it’s true: it goes fast — faster than you can ever imagine — these are the good, hard (incredibly hard), long, worthwhile days.

2. IT GETS WORSE BEFORE IT GETS BETTER. Think of most any developmental leap, milestone, or change and you can pretty much guarantee that things took a nose dive before the ride got smoother. Potty-training: a regression is bound to happen before you’re in dry pants territory. Sleeping: you’re going to hit (multiple) regressions and blips before you get some semblance of solid sleep. Walking: they go from speedy independent all-fours (or some variant) mobility to a rickety, slow gait before a sturdy walk is established. The first high fever bug: that thermometer reading has to keep going up and up (along with your blood pressure) until it eventually inches down. And afterwards, all of that stress and worry and strain remains as nothing but a memory. So know that if you’re at a parenting point when you end each day exhausted in all ways, doubting yourself and your abilities, feeling frustrated and stressed beyond what you ever knew possible, and wondering:”Will this ever end?” Know it will. And trust that this is just the precursor to improvement.

3. IT’S SURVIVABLE AND SAVORABLE¬†You will have days when you lower your personal performance bar to such a degree that you refuse to be witnessed by any outsiders… your goal is survival. That’s ok. Those days (or a week) are normal. Nope, you’re not a failure. Nope, you’re not doing anything or everything wrong. Yep, it happens to everyone — EVERYONE — just people don’t admit it. But amidst it all, you can find a way to savor it. Savor your child’s smile in between tantrums or the sweetness of your child’s finally sleeping face or your own strength for being there despite everything going sideways. You may read this in the thick of things and think I’m full of it, but just try it: savor it. I’m not saying relish the crappy moments. No, those can stay sucky. I’m saying ignore the big picture of awful and appreciate the snapshots of good. In those tiny hidden moments you’ll find something to savor. There’s always something, no matter how small. Just look for it. Squint if you need to.

In no time at all you’ll be looking back on where you’ve been and think, “Wow, that was a shitshow, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world!” This is your life, your child’s life; don’t wish it away for what it isn’t. Don’t ignore all the pitfalls and spin it into what it never was. Dig in and appreciate it for what it is.

Survive it. Savor it. One day at a time.

The Tough Days, The Precious Years

I love the “Memories” portion of Facebook, don’t you? Photos and posts from 1, 2, 3… 5 years ago pop up to remind you where you were — who you were — on that exact day years ago. It really gives you a heightened awareness of your journey. It also highlights just how fast times passes.

Recently, these photos appeared in my Facebook “Memories” feed. At first, I looked at my 3-years-younger children’s cherubic faces, my daughter’s shorter ringlets, my son’s toddler stature. Then, I remembered.

FB_IMG_1492624880277

I remembered this trip vividly. It was my turning point. It was when I finally began to feel my head cresting above water. I was moving beyond survival mode.

The months and long days prior were tough but precious. I remembered them with a visceral clarity. The sleeplessness, the tantrums, the constant needs, the perpetual demands (external and internal), the feeling as if everyone else had their shit together but me.

Prior to that day, I had a constant sense of being overwhelmed, underprepared, inept, but engulfed in love. I adored my children, but I struggled to wrangle my 1-year-old and 2.5-year-old. I strained to work part-time with a hellish commute while simultaneously striving to be the hands-on, involved mother I wanted to be.

I demanded of myself to be everything. To do everything. I refused to admit defeat. Other women could have, do, and be it all, so why couldn’t I? Wait… but could they? Could I?

FB_IMG_1492624862339

As I look back now with 3 years of experience, distance, and perspective, I can appreciate how adorable those little faces were. I can forget the tantrums over the granola bar being broken, the fits over a sippy cup being purple instead of blue, the frenzy over a pink tutu not being pink enough. I can forget the fatigued fog of lacking REM sleep. I can forget feigning that I was a career-minded woman in the office, attempting to hide my tears over missing my children’s first trip to a pumpkin patch or not being the one to kiss their scraped knees because I was managing spreadsheets. I can forget the hazardous work-home-life balancing act that never included myself. I can forget the public meltdowns, the car seat battles, the unexpected toddler bolt in public as I chased behind my pint-sized fugitive maneuvering the Snap-N-Go stroller through crowds.

Now, I can simply remember the good, the precious, the sweet. I hold onto memories of the cuddles, the sticky kisses, the chubby hands and dimpled knees, the adoration and clinging need that accompanies being someone else’s everything. I can mute the struggles and amplify the beauty. I can laugh at where I’ve been, even craving a momentary return to the madness. Those days were tough, the years were precious. The memories are priceless.