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.

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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.

Mama Tears, Mama Fears: New School Year, New Chapter

It’s that time of year again. Teachers’ classrooms are freshly invigorated with unfamiliar students and crisp bulletinboard decor. Students sport squeaky new shoes and summer tans. Parents sigh a breath of relief, having survived the final days of summer and seek solace in the reprieve from child-wrangling or piecemeal childcare arrangements of summer. Except for me.

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From pool bag to school shoes

I’m the one feeling like the odd duck; the unicorn parent who is not excited for school to begin. At all. Instead of rejoicing my additional freedom and pumpkin spice everything, I’m mourning the end of my favorite season of long days spent outside in the sunshine, soaking in my kids, the sand, the sea, the memories. I know full well my children were equal parts adorable and asshole, but I don’t care. I’m self-loathing, wishing days of togetherness with my demanding darlings instead of hours of respite.

I’m lamenting the return to school year rush and the rigid routine I feel forced, not innately inclined, to institute. I shudder at the coming winter, as if a character from “Game of Thrones.” looking ahead towards an invasion of the zombie-like icy White Walkers: WINTER IS COMING! 

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School days are here

Mostly, though, I’m crying for a closing chapter I desperately wish to pry open. I shed tears recollecting where we used to be, who my children were (even just at summer’s beginning), how fast it all has progressed. I smile recalling memories of exhaustion and cuteness, milestones and regressions, overcome worries and hard-won lessons. I am warmed by gratitude for having been granted this life experience of motherhood, for being willing and able to accept the ass-kick of corporate lay-offs to shove me from cubicle to stay-at-home mom life. I feel a mixture of unsettling uncertainty and hopeful optimism knowing that we are all progressing — as individuals and as a family — towards our future selves.

I know we were where we needed to be, we are where we’re supposed to be, and we’re going where we’re intended. I’m still scared. Still sad. Still hopeful. Still reflective. Still uncertain.

Just as I am optimistic yet unclear as to who my children will be, what their futures will look like, I am similarly hopefully and anxiously unknowing of my own path ahead. Who will I be when I grow up?

Who do I WANT to be?

A mom. I want to be a mom. “You will always be a mom”, people say. But I fear the unknown. The unfamiliarity of mothering older children, teens, adults. I fear not being needed. Not being wanted. Those days will come, as they should (if I’ve done my job right), for raising independent, resilient children is my goal. But I hope they don’t come too soon.

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With my youngest entering preschool, this is my first time having all of my children in school. Grocery trips alone, a walk through Target or DSW or Homegoods unencumbered by tantrumers or snack requests? A quiet morning spent however I choose, whether on a walk, flowing through yoga, sipping coffee with friends, folding laundry, or sitting on my ass in a quiet house? What an unfamiliar circumstance!

I am in for a whole new chapter. More freedom. More time. More ability to uncover who I want to be as opposed to simply who they need me to be. Am I ready for the answer?