We spend these first four or five or six or eight years of parenting racing for some kind of finish line, as if we’re getting through the hard part, the sleepless nights and the soiled mattresses and the hitting and the spitting and the defiance and the complete and total meltdowns over mechanical pencil lead and other inexplicable things and the sitting down in the middle of the sidewalk and refusing to budge and the fussing and the fighting and the –
We think, oh, it will so nice when they’re older, six, seven, eight, nine, twelve. It will be so nice when we… can go on family road trips. It will be so nice when –
In the midst – or is it the mist – of this illusion, there is absolutely nothing more delicious in the whole wide world than a four-year-old’s skin, dry and soft after a bath, or than standing back and watching her master the spelling and writing of her name, which has “five letters” she’ll tell you. No amount of whining or pouting holds a candle to seeing a little vase of hand-picked garden flowers surrounded by the clutter of red plastic cups and discarded beer cans on the picnic table in the yard next door, where the new crop of students is partying hard and gearing up for fall – and learning that your almost-second-grader delivered them, with her own carefully crafted message: “Thanks for letting me sleep.” What “someday” could ever top a “girl bath” where we three wash each other’s boobs and laugh our heads off?
But one word from you, one conciliatory gesture, and she goes into that turtle shell position, the one she has used as a shield for years now. “I don’t like feeling BLAMED for things!!!” she yells and storms out the front door. And it is at moments like this that you think, holy shit. We had it backwards. All these early years have only been the beginning. September is hours away and suddenly you’re looking at homework and soccer practice and play rehearsals and preschool drop-offs in the context of job-searching and interviewing and making dinner and taking out the recycling and navigating some of the most complex and high-stakes questions of your life –
and you have this moment, this morning, one kid holed up alone upstairs with circles under her eyes from reading Harry Potter in her sleeping bag at the top of the stairs until 10:00pm, the other in the kitchen with that post-meltdown catch in her breath, finally eating some cereal (note to self: morning hunger = meltdowns), where you realize, for the millionth time, the obvious: There is no “hard” part. There is no “easier” part. There are no “parts” at all. There is each moment. Each mood. Each wave, each crest and crash. There is each recovery and each button pushed and each “Don’t talk back” moment where you can’t believe it’s you talking. There is the paralysis and inertia of doing the same thing over and over and wondering why “it’s not working.” There is the stepping back to see, to choose, and the stepping in, on purpose, to respond, to speak, to connect, to be clear or firm or kind or yielding or tender or assertive or whatever the case may be. And none of this happens in the haze of fear or the mist of an illusion that certain years or ages or kids are “hard” or “easy.”
And then we think… thank God school starts tomorrow.