recently, a bunch of my friends have found themselves the proud and fortunate stewards of very small and very typically needy human beings.
Some people call them “kids”.
I like to refer to them as “the adorable organic matter whose singular intent is to focus their efforts on your current identity, assumed life purpose, and tendencies toward selfishness and then grind them all down to smooth edges and a burnished patina.”
That's what I like to refer to them as.
Anyway, right now my friends-with-new-babies are deep in the trenches of intense hands-on parenting. Those first hard corners of Who Am I Now? are being ground down.
And not without a lot of sparks.
A few of my friends have been posting on their blogs and on Facebook that, gol-damn, this Mother/Father Of Small Children thing - for all the priceless moments of preciousness and soulful pangs of “I’d jump in front of a bus to save you, Child, I love you so much!” - this Parent Gig also comes with a surprising number of hours and days and even weeks when the physical, emotional, spiritual, biological, philosophical, psychological, nutritional, scatological, and motivational demands of living with a knee-high insane person (and I mean that in the sweetest way possible) make you reminisce for the relative zen calm of other identity-altering life experiences.
Like middle-school gym class.
Or your weeks in Marine boot camp.
Parenting can be exhausting.
With my first child, I remember other parents handing out well-meaning platitudes to help me get through the incredibly surrealistic first year. They would say things like
“The first two weeks are the hardest. Just soldier-through these two weeks, your hormones will settle down, you won’t feel simultaneously weepy and stabby, your nipples won’t look like raw hamburger…at two weeks post-partum, it all gets SO much better. This is the worst of it.”
And they’d say things like
“At three months most kids don’t have colic anymore and they stop screaming and just hang in there until the third month and it’s all rainbows and kitty cats and fairy princesses farting glitter, and gurgling, giggling babies from there on out.”
And they would look me straight in the eye and say - without smirking or even crossing fingers, mind you - they’d say
“Just wait till the baby starts sitting-up and then walking and then talking and oh my goodness, once they become more like little people and less like pooping, screaming, drooling flounders, well Mister, a whole world of wonder and adventure will open up and deep breaths, keep the faith, the hardest part of parenting is almost over.”
Other parents would say these things to me.
Words of help. Words of hope. Welcome words that did the desired job of getting me through the next sleepless night, well past the next colicky day, beyond one more week of losing every piece of identifiable former me as I stumbled and troubled, running hard through the first months of the Mother Host-Adorable Parasite initiation ritual.
Looking back now, knowing what I know about the truthiness of One Day This Parenting Thing Will Be Easy (SPOILER ALERT!: Some things do get much easier; other aspects of parenting get way harder; puke always sucks), I have to say that I am still grateful for the lies these other parents told me. It was better than nothing.
However, I now believe the truth is always best.
I think that in the end it’s best to be told right off the bat - from the very first episiotomy stitch, from the first projectile vomit that leads you leaping to Google to figure out what the hell just happened - that this parenting gig is not a simple sprint to one or two developmental milestones.
On the contrary.
To massacre another metaphor, parenting is a years-long marathon with hills and blind turns and shin splints and lots and lots of poop and vomit.
It should also be seriously but gently explained to new parents that just when you think you’ve seen the finish line ahead of you and you grab that cup of Gatorade and squish it over your head in sheer relief and victorious victory, that’s when you’ll realize that what you're seeing up ahead isn’t a tape to break through. And that shimmering glow isn’t heat mirage on the blacktop.
What’s up ahead is a shoreline.
And a lake.
And on the shore of the lake is a bike.
And being a parent means that now you have to ride the bike across the lake.
And it’s four in the morning and the child who you previously promoted as being your “good sleeper” has since decided to have nightmares about Zombie Elmo every night for the past three months, and now you have to bike across the lake with that screaming, clawing, sleep-deprived, adorable-really child.
You’ll do it, of course. You’ll do it because you have to. You’ll do it because you want to. You’ll do it because of biological imperative. You’ll do it because eventually, if you don’t, your kids will write revealing blog posts about you or videotape you sleeping in your underwear and then upload it to YouTube and without remorse or a sense of humor.
Most of all, you’ll do it because of some new definition of “love” that you’re still figuring out with your head, but a version of love that every bone in your body seems very confident in understanding.
That’s good. Really.
What’s not good, really, is the helpful verisimilitude of those people who keep stringing up the faux finish lines.
In the end, it’s not a big thing. You’d figure it out on your own, eventually.
But if someone would have been unflinchingly upfront about the bike and the lake and the Undead Muppet Terrors, I wouldn’t have been so cavalier with those first few cups of Gatorade.
That first year (and the year after...and the year after...) is when I really could have used a drink.
I also might not have considered myself a sneaky, shameful cheater if I would have walked a mile or two here and there during the initial marathon. (Apply that metaphor as you like; my personal favorite at the time was my ridiculous guilt over giving a kid bottles of formula so the all-night breastaurant could close shop and I could sleep more than 15 minutes at a time.)
Because this parenting thing is actually a triathlon that keeps repeating.
A triathlon, at least.
Maybe it’s a quintathlon. Or an octathlon. Who can say?
What I do know is this:
There is no finish line, so pace yourself.
Anticipate the bend in the road.
Accept the detours.
Learn to bike on water.
Stay hydrated with the beverages of your choice.
And...sunblock is useless.
Enjoy your burnished patina.
(Like how I forced those metaphorical puzzle piece together? I have a degree. Don't try this at home.)
Year three of being in the moment and mistrusting the mirages.