Today is what LinkedIn would call my 10 year “job anniversary”: 10 years ago today, my first son was born. He was an easy baby. Of course, having had no experience whatsoever taking care of children, I thought he was absolutely impossible.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve had five kids and a veritable boatload of that unquantifiable entity we like to call “experience.” These are the 10 lessons I’ve learned over the course of the past 10 years, in no particular order.
1. There Will Be Nakedness.
When I went into the hospital to give birth to my first son, the nurse in the labor and delivery room gave me that not-exactly-couture excuse for a “gown” (otherwise known as “cloth with a few snaps”) and told me to change. I headed for the bathroom. The labor and delivery nurse cracked up laughing. “Honey, is it your first time doing this?” she said in a half-kind, half-condescending way. “Because there’s no such thing as modesty in these parts.”
After pooping on the table–oh, and giving birth–I got it. But I really only just began to get it. Parenting is nakedness, literal and metaphorical. But let’s start with the literal. Over the past 10 years, I have long abandoned the quaint idea of using the bathroom by myself, whether to shower or defecate. I have had my genitalia critiqued by toddlers (“MOMMY! WHERE IS YOUR PENIS???”). I have been watched by beady little eyes while attaching a maxipad to postpartum disposable underwear (“Mommy! I don’t want a bandaid on my jay-jay!”). I have bared my breasts in non-Girls Gone Wild fashion in airports, restaurants, shopping malls, and in front of the elderly and faint of heart. I have showered and bathed with children.
The woman was right: there is no such thing as modesty in these parts.
2. Never Say Never.
“I would NEVER…” This is a sentence-starter best uttered by those without children. Because once you have children, you know that there is almost nothing that is impossible to imagine. Would I let someone, for example, pee ON MY FACE without slapping them? If it was an errant penis in the name of toilet training, apparently I sure would. Would I allow my child to put a pre-chewed cookie in my mouth? Yum! Would I carry a used poopy diaper in my purse until I found a garbage can? Let’s just say you shouldn’t go into my purse without a hazmat suit and asking first.
More seriously, I’ve learned the hard way to revisit stupid sentences like, “I would NEVER get divorced,” or, “I would NEVER get a minivan.” I’ve done both. While both were painful, the results have been fantastic. The only “never” you can safely say as a parent is, “You never know.”
3. You Will, On Occasion, Experience Buyer’s Remorse.
I once went to visit someone who shall remain nameless who had just had their fourth child. She greeted me outside her home. Her hair was a Medusa-like wreck. Her shirt was covered with spit up. Her eyes, dragged down by bags, looked not uncrazy.
“How’s it going?” I timidly asked.
“Well, having a fourth was just a big fucking mistake,” she said candidly.
Now, I appreciated her vulnerability and candor. I would have appreciated it more, perhaps, if I hadn’t been pregnant with my fourth, but never mind.
There is not a single parent anywhere who will go through the entirety of parenting without a “What the hell have I done??” moment. That moment may come at 4 in the morning after hours of incessant colicky baby screams. I could posit a bunch of hypothetical situations but the fact of the matter is that that moment will come to visit you. And it will feel horrible. And everyone has it. And this too shall pass. Leading us to…
4. Things that seem infinite aren’t: This Too Shall Pass.
Those colicky nights that seem like they will never end? Well, they do end eventually. There is always light at the end of the tunnel. The toddler who refuses to sleep past 5:30? She’ll eventually turn into an impossible-to-rouse morning slumber hog. That unseemly obsession with dinosaurs, or Hello Kitty, or Star Wars, or Minecraft? Eventually, you will be packing all that crap into Tupperware containers for your someday-grandchildren or garage sale. Your child will one day learn how to use the toilet, and maybe even how to hang up his or her towel. Things that annoy the crap out of you now will not be around forever. That is why you need to…
5. Learn to laugh.
Laugh at yourself. Laugh at your kid. Laugh with your kid. If you’re not having fun doing this parenting thing, and you are always looking toward the next era–“I can’t WAIT until he can walk,” “I can’t WAIT until she can dress herself,” “I can’t WAIT until we are old enough for camp,”–you are missing out on the entire point. Your life as a parent is full of organization, work, exhaustion, and tears. It’s not fun all the time, no question. But you need to take a deep breath and make sure to enjoy it and enjoy your kids. You know what will help you to do that?
6. Ask for help.
There is no shame in getting help, whether it is from parents, friends, or paid help. Doing it all alone like some crazed pioneer zealot will only lead to an inevitable crash. Take a break every now and then for you, whether it is a nap or a walk around the block or a few pages of a magazine or book. If you feel blue, look for resources, whether it is postpartum anxiety/depression or otherwise. I cannot say it enough: there is no shame in getting help. That whole “put on your oxygen mask before taking care of the kids’ oxygen masks” should be taken metaphorically as well as literally.
7. Whatever you are feeling, someone else out there feels it too.
Come to a community like Kveller online or a parenting group in person. It will help you feel less alone in whatever you are going through as a parent, whether it’s getting used to your postpartum body changes or dealing with your kids’ first forays into puberty. Parenting is intense, and sometimes you can feel like you are drowning in whatever you are dealing with at a particular moment: knowing that other people have been there, done that, and might even have a word or two of advice for you is a lifeline.
8. Parenting is a crash course in people: don’t fail it.
Don’t waste your parenting time judging others for their choices of how they deal with their kids. Do what feels right to you. You are the only YOU your child has. At the end of the day, trying to be something you aren’t won’t suit you and won’t suit your kid. I am messy by nature; we are all trying to learn from my husband how to be neat. I am not a scrapbooker but am hoping these blogposts will be a sufficient album to one day hand to my children.
9. Nothing is more important than compassion.
Use your experience caring for and loving someone to make you a better person–more capable of understanding and empathizing with what other people are going through. Being a parent is a window into what it means to have another life truly matter to you. If you extend that love beyond your own children and family, you can find yourself becoming a pretty great person. Parenting teaches you that you are stronger than you ever imagined: use that strength to help others.
10. You can do the best job you possibly can being a parent, with tons of blood, sweat, and tears…but you will never get a medal, a prize or a monument.
There’s no question you deserve recognition on a global scale. You’re not going to get it. There is no Nobel of Parenting. The only prize to be won is the hard-earned, every-fucking-day work of doing a great job and creating a great kid.
But that’s okay–because if there actually were a prize, you wouldn’t be able to go to the ceremony awarding it, because you are way too busy.