As I may have mentioned a few times before, I have four children, each of which are at very different ages and phases of their lives. At 8, 12, 15, and 19 (although she declares that she is “almost 20”), they each are in the midst of very different life experiences, at different schools, with different levels of maturity.
While watching them grow and navigate through each new experience, I’ve found their transitions through the milestones of growing up are NOT predictable, nor do they have defined beginnings and ends. The truth is as each challenging phase ends, my husband and I have barely exhaled a sigh of relief and basked in a moment of parental accomplishment before another challenging task begins.
I recently visited a friend and her newborn son, and couldn’t stop smelling his sweet little head. My oldest joined me for the visit, and couldn’t get over the level of my weirdness. “Mom, why are you doing that?! You’re so weird!” I didn’t stop inhaling that enchanting scent to explain to her that there is just something about that new baby smell – the smell of innocence and fragility – that makes my uterus skip a beat. She would’ve DEFINITELY thought that sentiment was weird.
In talking to my friend about the premature arrival of her first-born, working out the kinks of breastfeeding, and trying to assemble some sort of a sleep schedule, it reminded me of where my parenting journey began. In the month of September, almost 20 years ago, as the crisp Fall air began to permeate the humid vapor that accompanied my ninth month of pregnancy, I smelled that amazing newborn smell for the first time.
It was intoxicating.
It was also eye opening. Once the anesthesia wore off and I was finally able to hold that tiny human in my arms, I knew what an enormous amount of responsibility had been placed in my hands.
I knew I had to do the very best possible for her, but I also had NO IDEA what I was doing. I fumbled through every new phase clutching tightly my copy of What to Expect the First Year and dialing the pediatric nurse’s line enough times to constitute harassment.
We worked through it all: swaddling, nursing, first bath, diaper changes (she was pretty creative even then), sleeping through the night, nursing in public (WAY different than nursing at home!), tummy time, teething. We evolved slowly but surely as we crept towards walking, talking, and eventually potty training. That was when I first realized I was wishing phases away.
As we increased the size of our household, the wishes for someone, anyone, to pee in the potty increased and the hours of sleep decreased. At one point after the birth of our third child, who nursed every 45 minutes for the first two months of his life, a friend drove past our house and found me standing in the driveway, in pajamas, staring into the yard and holding the morning paper. I guess I remembered to go grab the paper but forgot to turn around and go back into the house. I was clearly in a daze and pajamas that desperately needed washing, and within an hour, my friends had assembled on my doorstep staging a sleep intervention. They scooped up my ravenous son and forced me to sleep long enough to no longer resemble a Walking Dead character.
When I emerged, I was grateful for wonderfully caring friends, and I was fairly certain that I would never, ever, feel rested again. Looking back, I was so sleep deprived that my sanity was in great jeopardy, and I was sure this was my new norm.
The late night feedings ended. The teething ended. The potty training ended (thank goodness!). The sleep deprivation ended (almost).
Parenting evolved into first days of school, losing training wheels, and refereeing sibling arguments (this is still an issue). We moved into talks about puberty (THAT was a disaster), deodorant, and pimples. It seemed as if we blinked and there were teenagers, drivers licenses, graduation, and a college move. Before I knew it, the only wish I had was to have them all under one roof again.
When it is all said and done, I will have raised children under my roof for 29 years. Twenty-nine. And that’s not counting the part after they leave, come back, and leave again. While I did wish away some of those more challenging moments, I never wished they’d grow up and move out faster or want to spend less time with me.
We are now parents of an adult child, and par for our course, we have no idea what we’re doing. Just ask her. About a year ago, she realized we are literally making things up as we go.
“So basically, I’m your guinea pig?”
That’s right, kid. We’re doing the very best we can with what we have and what we know at each moment in time. Parenting involves a lifetime of on-the-job-training, learning from our failures, celebrating our successes, and trying to do things better the next time around. We won’t always lead perfectly, react perfectly, or give perfect advice. But we perfectly love each one of our children at each and every moment along the way.
We still have many first days of school, math homework that resembles hieroglyphics, and driving lessons that require Dramamine ahead of us. And we are doing our best to soak up the good, the bad, and the ugly as we go. I’m now wishing only for time to slow down, for my 15-year-old to never shy away from sharing her world with me, and for my 8-year-old to stay small enough to jump into my arms and wrap her hugs around me. I live for the moments when we are all together, and the sound of my four laughing together has become as refreshing as the smell of their newborn heads.
The running joke is by the time all of my kids are out of the house, I will have grandchildren, although my oldest adamantly disagrees. Maybe someday we will relive those newborn moments when our children eventually become parents (NO RUSH!), but there is plenty of time for that in our very distant future. And since wishing for phases to pass, time to stand still, and kids to stop arguing doesn’t seem to be working, I will wash my referee uniform – and my pajamas – and enjoy the hugs, the laughter, and the moments for as long as they last.