The thing about kids is that you don’t need a license or certification or even good intentions in order to have one. You just do this (rather animalistic) act and then -BOOM- less than a year later you are the proud owner of a fragile, flailing, extremely loud, real, live human…innately designed to scream the moment you close your eyes or sit down with a hot cup of coffee. Sure, there’s care and feeding instructions out there, but the disclaimer on every one is that if you get it wrong you will mess them up for life.
And the really crazy thing is that some people who have read all the manuals and followed all the rules can try and try for years to make one of these babies and never get one. And yet other people will get drunk or lazy one time and -WHAM- they’ve got a rather permanent souvenir (no experience necessary).
So, even if you are one of the lucky ones who was actually able to think it through and decide on purpose to tackle the monumental task of raising a child, you are in for a terrifying joyride of epic proportions: filled with more poop and puke, tears and heartache, hugs and laughter, smiles and soul-crushing love than you ever thought you could withstand.
My children are nearly 5 and 7. One of them gets carsick regularly and the other still pees their pants. Quite often I find turds just hanging out in the toilet. There are half-eaten granola bars tucked into the couch cushions and wet socks in the yard. I’m always wandering around the house asking “What stinks?” They shrug and bat their eyes, “Wasn’t me.”
The other day, I heard the whimsical sounds of my children playing outside. I looked out the window, cherishing this moment, and I see my son peeing in the herb garden and my daughter leaping happily through the yard naked from the waist down.
I feel like I was misinformed: I am actually a zookeeper, and yet I was told I would be raising a human child.
Probably the thing I was least prepared for is the extremes: that in the span of one afternoon, I can range from snarling crazy-eyed mom-beast to whimpering emotional love-sap. Before I became a mom, my moods were fairly predictable. I got irritated by normal stuff, like people who didn’t use their turn signal or undercooked French fries.
But now, I’ll be driving home from nowhere in particular after a perfectly nice rain storm, and my eye starts twitching: My son is in the backseat, asking me for the 900,000th time, “How deep do you think that puddle is? How deep is THAT one? How about THAT one over there?” while my daughter’s voice gradually increases to jet-engine decibels because she’s been trying to sing her unicorn song and “NO ONE IS LISTENING!” (Also, Mom, can I have a granola bar?) I want to pull the car over, run out into a field, and curl up into a ball.
The noise of them can be so deafening sometimes – the bickering, the constant questions, the incessant demands. Many times it feels like I don’t have room for my own thoughts. It’s like my brain has been taken over by a parasitic entity and I question if my own personality is still intact in there somewhere.
Fast forward to a few hours later: My son comes stomping in from playing outside and he’s crying, or trying not to; chin lifted, eyes blinking back tears. One of the older neighbor boys can be a bully – apparently he said some words and hurt his pride (I’m just guessing, because of course my son won’t talk about it).
I try to hold him and ease his pain with my bottomless maternal love, but he is stiff and resistant. He knows that I knowthat I can’t fix this kind of hurt. My soul aches for him. This is only the first of many, many times in his little life that I will be helpless against those emotional wounds inflicted by others. One day a girl will break his heart, or a friend will betray his trust, or a loved one will pass away. And despite my default-desire to make everything ok, he will have to work through to the other side of his own inner pain, just like we all do. He eventually sinks into my arms and lets the sobs roll out of him. I do the only things a mother can do at this point, love him, rock him, and give him a safe place to feel his emotions.
That’s the dichotomy of parenthood: I want to be needed, just not every 30 minutes (tie a shoe, answer some questions, wipe a butt, watch this, open a granola bar, find some socks, wipe another butt). I want to make life great and exciting for them, just not SO great and exciting that they become entitled and bratty. I want to teach them, but I want them to figure it out on their own. I want to protect them from every possible danger, but not EVERY one, because how will they learn to get back up if I don’t let them fall? And for God’s sake, I want them to leave me alone sometimes! …But then I find myself secretly watching them because it’s so interesting to see how they act when they think I’m not around.
I look at them now – sometimes they seem so BIG and sometimes them seem so very, very small. I can hardly remember how my life was before them, yet I mourn for that unencumbered part of myself that is probably lost forever, or at least in deep, deep hibernation. Although they will tell anyone who asks that I’m the “Boss,” I hardly ever feel like I’m in control of anything anymore. (They sure as hell don’t do or say what I want them to!)
As soon as you start to feel like you are getting a handle on things, something new comes your way: your son discovers YouTube, your daughter thinks she’s a cat, or, say, a global pandemic shuts down schools and you have to learn how to become an elementary teacher and a tech expert overnight.
We’re all so terrified right now. We just want to keep our kids safe, keep our kids well-adjusted and happy. But we don’t know what to do. Stay home? Go back? Both? None of the above?
If there wasn’t a parenting instruction manual before this whole pandemic thing, this sure as hell blew the roof off any sort of “best-practices” guidelines. There is literally no right answer. No one knows what the NEXT RIGHT THING is at this point. We are all as clueless now as we were the day our kids were born, staring into their beautiful needy eyes wondering “now what?”
I don’t know.
Follow your gut.
Teach them to advocate for themselves.
Hug each other.
Hope for the best.
©Skye Nicholson 2020