Chilling Up

Over the past couple of weeks I have been feeling especially nostalgic. My daughter (my oldest) just graduated from preschool, and I may have started panicking a bit as I looked through the pictures from her end of year celebration. For some reason it has only now started hitting me that in just a blink of an eye I am going to look back at the pictures from significant days like this and feel a tinge of sadness. My heart has begun to ache for the future me that will look back on these moments and miss the different versions of my kids captured by my camera as we move all too quickly through time.

Not that I haven’t always felt a bit of that same tinge when I have looked back at other pictures of my daughter and my now two-year-old son; but I think that this is the first time when I have, in the midst of one of these once-in-a-lifetime moments, so fully felt the emotions that the future me will undoubtedly feel in the not-so-distant future. I blame the lack of sleep that generally comes along with the first few years of a child’s life. It is a crime that sleep deprivation and new-parent stress can keep one from thoroughly understanding the magnificence of the cuddles, snuggles, and late-night feedings. (Of course, I say all this now that I am some distance from this stage.)

At any rate, I am feeling like I have finally grown into my “parenthood” shoes and that I can more fully appreciate each moment as it is. Letting go of the stress has allowed me to more fully enjoy rites of passage, big and small; from my daughter’s graduation to my son’s beaming pride at every great new achievement. I am more present as he has really grown into a wonderful, imaginative playmate and my daughter has, after two years, learned to share her toys. Some lessons are just so hard to learn, but well worth the wait.

Before I discover my next stage of parenting, which may very well land me right back into “stress and sleep deprivation” land, I want to enjoy this moment in time and perhaps reach back a little bit and honor some of the milestones that I didn’t appreciate enough at the time. So today I’d like to start my list of under-appreciated moments in time that I would like to remember in the future. Perhaps you’ll be able to relate or have a few of your own under-appreciated kid and parent milestones to add:

Milestones I Should Have Appreciated More:

  • When the kids started talking about (in detail) and celebrating their bowel movements. Call me immature, but it is funny.
  • The first creation of a family portrait. On the wall. The same one that we have not had the heart to erase.
  • Each car ride accompanied by complete songs; the ones that are sweet only a parent’s ears and sung over. and over. and over.
  • The puke covered shirts (mine, not theirs), for I would have never gotten onto the scarf bandwagon if I hadn’t been out of clean shirts and needed to quickly cover a little puke grossness.
  • The inventions of new word combinations such as “Hanitizer,” “Co-help-erate” and “Chill up, Mommy!” And the day when we realized that those words found a way into our everyday vocabulary.
  • The moment when I realized for the first time what I REALLY sound like; not because I was listening to a recording, but because my kids began to speak clearly enough to throw my words right back at me. And I found myself annoying.
  • When I found out for the first time which of our possessions really mattered… because it was thoroughly destroyed by tiny hands. (See related: when my children proved that “childproof” doesn’t mean what we thought it meant.)
  • When I could trust my kids to play nice long enough to close the bathroom door, thank you very much.
  • When we discovered that the kids were tall enough to reach up onto the kitchen counters, only to discover just how well they could also reach the trash can, and just how hard it can be to find a set of car keys.
  • When the kids could start remembering where they hid things.
  • The day when your two-year-old throws a fit and your four-year-old says, “jeeeze… what’s HIS deal?!” Priceless.
  • The first time when I, in the midst of one of these once-in-a-lifetime milestones, so fully felt the emotions that the future me will undoubtedly feel in the not-so-distant future–knowing that I will miss my kids as they are in each of these moments.

A Common Language

MultitaskingI realized today that I talk about my kids incessantly. I have become one of “those parents” who can’t help but insert a funny anecdote about my kids and their bowel movements to help illustrate a point– any point– even if the conversation at hand has NOTHING to do with children OR poop.

And yes, it did take me 5 minutes to remember the word “anecdote,” because my brain is only 25% focused on what I am writing at this moment. The other 50% is paying attention to the toddler and preschooler fighting over who is going to get to sit on my lap right now. And before you start wondering about the missing 25% of my brain, it has long ago turned into mush and has a voice that sounds like Elmo. I am not making that up.

But as I look back over my sadly out-of-date blog, and attempt to type with one hand while my toddler has staged a sit-down strike on my right arm, I realize that the reason that I write so much about parenthood is because… well… it is sitting on my right arm. And it’s starting to smell.

I have been lucky enough in life that I have had few challenges as profound as parenting. But this challenge, or series of never-ending challenges, never has and never will leave the forefront of my brain. It occupies my existence 24/7/365. So I guess that it is probably a good and necessary life skill to be able to find big life-lessons in the seemingly small, gross, and weird that comes along with kids. Think of it as multi-tasking.

Now, if childless me from the past had accidentally stumbled upon this exact blog entry (because, let’s face it, childless me would have never read a blog talking about kids, like, on purpose) I would have told me to stop complaining.

Well, childless me, let me let you in on a little secret: I am not complaining. I am merely speaking a different language– a not-so-secret tongue shared between caregivers of children the world over. You might witness evidence of this language in supermarkets; that knowing look shared between parents when a tired, hungry child has a complete and utter meltdown in the bread aisle. It is a look that says, “Yeah. I know. I’ve been there too. But I am SO glad it’s not me this time.” This look, childless me, is the exact opposite of the look that you presently give to parents with cranky children. The “you are the most horrible parent in the world, and I know this because I have taken care of a kid for a couple of hours before” look. Stop this look. It will come back to haunt you, I promise.

Spoken correctly, this “caregiver of children” language is spoken with great love, understanding, and support. This language can transport you to a world where it might SOUND like you are complaining to a friend (or complete stranger) about changing crib sheets three times in one night after your toddler discovers how to undress himself for the first time. But, really, you are bragging about how awesomely brilliant your kid is for performing this Houdini-esque act, and paying tribute to that adorable, proud smile that made your otherwise miserable day. (Besides, you took some sweet pictures that you are going to show your kid’s future friends and partners. After all, you did change the sheets three times.)

The best part of this language is talking to other caregivers knowing that their lives have been forever changed as profoundly as yours has; that they, too, have had the unbelievable opportunity to humbly rediscover the world all over again through the eyes of a child. Stories shared have the power to help bring back beautiful memories, they can open your eyes when perspective has been lost, and can help a parent come to terms with the limits of what he or she can realistically offer their child.

Somehow being around and nurturing children, and being around others who share these experiences, has taught me more about this world, myself, and even my own childhood than I could have ever learned any other way. Shared experience, I think, can be one of the most powerful tools of understanding and support. Sometimes we just need a little anecdote about poop to break the ice.

And now that my hand is falling asleep from the toddler that has been happily perched on my arm, I am wondering if perhaps there is a lesson in this for me; a subtle reminder that I also need to care for myself so that I may be a fully-functioning parent. Or maybe my son is just telling me that he needs a new diaper. Multi-tasking.