My oldest just celebrated his sixth birthday. And my sweet friend is soon to have her first child. These two events have invoked a period of great reflection and contemplation in my life.
Looking back, I realize that six years ago I knew next to nothing. And looking forward, I realize I still know next to nothing. But six years and two more babies after the birth of my first child, I have a tiny bit of wisdom to impart to my friend and to anyone else about to step into the great expanse called parenthood. I’m afraid I don’t have much enlightenment on some of the great, all-important aspects of parenting. But I can shed a little light on some of what you might not be expecting to encounter—a few of the little oddball parts of parenting that no one tells you about at your baby shower.
Are you ready? Then read on!
1. Poop takes over your life.
It happens. Again, and again, and again. And you become a little (or a lot) obsessed with it. It’s hard not to be. For a parent, poop becomes the great indicator of your child’s well-being. Plus, it’s everywhere so you can’t help being constantly aware of it. It’s in the diaper, up the back, down the leg and on you. There are times you just wonder, “How can there possibly be so much of it?” and times you worry, “Is there too much of it?” or “What if there isn’t enough?” Is it the right color? Consistency? And heaven forbid your kiddo has problems pooping. You’re in for a rough ride of feeding them poop-inducing foods, maybe calling the doctor and perhaps sticking suppositories up their bums while cheering them on as they try to squeeze the stubborn mass out of their body.
Poop isn’t just a baby thing either. You deal with it when they’re toddlers, when they’re potty training, and even in slightly older kids when they’re really sick. And trust me, that part isn’t fun at all.
2. And speaking of poop, you’ll never go to the bathroom alone again.
It’s just a fact of life that’s worth getting used to. In the beginning it isn’t so bad. You can set them down and all they do is fuss and cry while you do your business. But the problem intensifies the older they get.
A few weeks ago I was involved in an intense game of Barrel of Monkeys with my daughter and she did NOT want the competition to be interrupted. I finally obtained the requisite permission to excuse myself to go to the bathroom but just as I’d reached the bathroom and shut the door, I heard her. Out there, breathing. And then she just opened the door (our master bathroom doesn’t have a lock) and stood there, proudly displaying her latest chain of monkeys. I tried to shoo her away and shut the door but to no avail. Her monkey chain had broken and she needed my help to fix it. And she waited, right there, until I was done.
Insert sigh here.
3. While we’re on the subject, just know that potty training can bring out the worst in you.
I tell you this now so that if it happens to you, you won’t have to hide your dirty little secret, like I did for so long.
In reality, I hear story after story of, “My kid would not go in the toilet until I did ____,” and invariably the blank is filled with something that has brought a lot of guilt to the story-teller. It is never anything abusive or really traumatizing, but to parents who are really trying to be the most amazing mom or dad possible, the drastic measure usually leaves them with the sense of, I’m the worst parent ever which is confusing because that emotion is simultaneously paired with the exultant, Oh my gosh, I am soooooo happy that worked! That was so totally worth it feeling.
For me, my ugly ____ was this: throwing a mommy-tantrum. It had been a year and a half of cleaning up poop (pee was never a problem) and trying absolutely everything you, the experts and the internet could possibly think of. And one night, I’d had it. I yelled, I cried, and I told my son I was angry and disappointed with him because he wouldn’t poop on the toilet. It was definitely not a shining moment of motherhood for me.
But my son never pooped in his pants again.
And I’ve learned to live with the fact that it is because I threw a fit.
Potty training can be REALLY rough. Hopefully it won’t be (my daughter was a dream to potty-train). But don’t be totally surprised if some of your ugliest parenting moments come out of these days. It’s okay, it’s all a part of the parenting club.
4. Your kids will want to eat. All.the.time.
It starts when they’re infants. They’re eating literally around the clock. You know this is how it is going to be, even before you hold your babe for the first time.
But—the eating thing doesn’t stop.
I never cease to be amazed at the amount of food my children consume. It seems as though they never stop being hungry—especially my boys. I’ll prepare a really great meal and they’ll eat a TON. Good, I’ll think to myself. That will keep them satisfied for a little bit.
And then, five minutes after we’ve cleaned up the dishes I’ll hear, “Mom, what can I eat?” Hand to forehead.
I worry about how we’re going to survive when they grow into teenagers and can eat as much as an adult. It frightens me.
Mostly I just try not to think about it.
5. You will come to both love—and dread the sound of your moniker.
I’ll never forget the first few times I finally heard the word “Mama” from my children. Due to my oldest child’s serious speech delay, it was actually my middle child who said it first and I was positively wild with excitement. I’d waited for so long to hear someone call me that, and it was finally happening! It wasn’t long after that my oldest picked the word up from his sister and he started calling me mama too. I was overjoyed! This is incredible! I thought. I’ll never get tired of hearing this! I did everything in my power to encourage my children to keep saying it over and over, because I loved it every single time.
Fast forward to the present, when it never fails. I’ll have just gotten settled on the couch with a good book or the TV remote when I’ll hear, “Mama!” coming from down the hall.
Inner groan. Because I know what’s coming after.
“Can you wipe my butt?”
Don’t get me wrong, hearing my children address me as “mama” has been one of the sweetest, small joys in my life. I treasure my title and find happiness in hearing my children call me that.
Most of the time.
But sometimes hearing the word can put lead in my stomach, depending on the time of day and the situation.
Mama! She hit me!
Mama? I can’t sleep.
Mama…I threw up.
You get the idea.
6. Your kids will hurt you.
And I’m not talking about how you will hurt for them (although you will).
I’m talking about them hurting you. Physically.
Of course if you birth your children, there’s the pain that comes with that process, and there’s pain that sometimes accompanies nursing as well. But I’m not even referring to those things—what I’m discussing is not specific to one gender or exclusive to a biological relationship. It doesn’t discriminate like that.
I’m referring to your frustrated baby throwing his head back as hard as he can and conking you right in the nose or lip or ear or eye socket with his noggin. Your toddler who decides that biting is suddenly a good idea. Your kiddo who decides it’s funny to surprise you by jumping off the couch onto your back while you’re digging his truck out from under the cushions. Getting whacked with a bat, kicked in the nose, having your hair pulled, your eyes gouged at, being scratched, hit, and pummeled. And these are mostly just accidents, people!
I remember when I was pregnant with my third, I grew alarmed at how my belly constantly seemed to be in harm’s way. I asked my OB just how much pummeling the wee babe in my belly could take. Alarmed, he asked, “Couldn’t you just tell your kids to be more careful around you?” If only, doc. If only.
7. Special days/activities will often turn out to be epic disasters.
Here’s the truth of the matter: the more excited you are, the more excited your kids are, the more likely it is that things will unravel. I hate to be the bearer of bad news. But it happens. A lot.
Your kid might get so excited she throws up. Or she might be so excited she bursts into tears. You just never know.
A few weeks ago, our family went to Disneyland for my son’s birthday. Everyone was thrilled with the prospect of the trip. Our kids had been begging us to take them for forever. And what do you think happened when we got there? My son became completely overwhelmed and informed us that he was afraid of the dark (never having had any prior fear of the dark whatsoever) and refused to go on any dark rides (meaning any rides that were not 100% outdoors). An hour after arriving in the park, all three kids were crying and I was a little, too. I took to Facebook, declaring it to be the worst vacation ever. It was a little more dramatic than I usually prefer to be on social media, but I was so upset at the situation, I couldn’t stop myself.
The story has a happy ending. My son overcame whatever was troubling him, we went on all the rides we desired, and we had a great time. My kids are already talking about going back.
But my point is, it happens time and time again. Kids tend to get overwhelmed with excitement and it gets the best of them. They cry on Christmas, on birthdays, on special trips, visits with family members, you name it.
Trust me, the more excited YOU are about seeing their happiness at something you’re doing for them, the more likely they are to be miserable.
So just brace yourself and you’ll be okay.
8. While we’re talking about being overwrought, just know your kids will get upset over the most absurd/ridiculous things. And if you have more than one kiddo, they’ll end up fighting over the most absurd/ridiculous things.
They get upset if their cup is the wrong color, distraught if you pick out the wrong pair of pants for them to wear, irate if you rescue them from burning themselves on the hot stove, if you buckle them in their car seat or change their diaper. True, this tendency is characteristic of toddlers, but trust me, it exists at every age.
Case in point: the other day I was taking the kids to a doctor’s appointment. My husband was planning on meeting me at the doctor’s office to lend a helping hand. When I told my kids that daddy would meet us at the office, they completely flipped out. I thought they would be excited to see their father (who is usually so adored), but nope. Somehow, some way, they got it into their heads that daddy should NOT be at the appointment. Apparently handling doctor’s appointments is only a mommy thing. When my husband approached our van as we pulled into the parking lot, an all-out riot ensued. At this moment, I’m still completely clueless about what went wrong.
Now let’s talk about the fighting thing. Kids will fight over EVERYTHING. And I mean EVERYTHING.
I think a good illustration of this principle is happening right this very minute as I’m writing this:
My daughter and older son are fighting over whether a door in our house should be open or shut—in their imagination. My daughter wants to pretend she shut the door magically with her fairy wand. My son, just to goad her, is pretending it is still open (again, in his imagination. In reality, FYI, the door is actually shut). But he is telling sister that he is imagining that the door is open. Argument ensuing. I tried explaining to my daughter that she can pretend whatever she wants, that it doesn’t matter what her older brother is pretending. But to no avail.
And now little brother is crying because he wants to play with said fairy wand and sister won’t let him. More fighting.
Is it time for bed yet?
9. You’ll find yourself fighting the most bizarre battles.
Before I had children, and even after I’d had them, but while they were still babies, I’d think about all the things I wanted to teach them. How to be respectful, loving, and kind human beings. How to value themselves. How to work and learn so they can be independent adults and contributors to society.
What I did not anticipate were words like these coming out of my mouth:
“Stop licking the wall. I’m serious! Get your tongue off the wall, that’s gross! Don’t you dare spit at me….!”
Yep. I said those just the other day.
You see, when you become a parent you have all these big responsibilities on your shoulders. You recognize the weight of those responsibilities and do your best to meet them. At least to some degree, you expect these sort of concerns. You signed on for them, after all.
But you didn’t realize you’d face a million, smaller challenges, the kind which no parenting book can ever prepare you for. Things like your kid pulling down his pants and mooning you when he’s mad, or your daughter’s obsession with playing in the yard completely naked, or how your toddler gets so frustrated he tries to fling himself from your arms in the middle of the Wal-Mart parking lot, without any regard to his personal safety.
Sometimes you have to forget about getting them to be contributors to society. Sometimes it’s just about getting through the day.
10. It will be the craziest, wildest, most wonderful ride of your life. And you’ll LOVE it.
Here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter how many poops you clean, how many tantrums you soothe, or how many sleepless nights you endure. Every single one of those things is completely worth it.
And for every one of those unexpected struggles your young children bring there are more, countless more unexpected joys. The flowers they pick from your backyard rose bushes to give to you. The spontaneous hug. When they laugh at a silly face you make. The first time they say, “please” all by themselves. When you see the overcome a personal struggle. There are so many, far too many to name.
All these things and a million other incredible moments are about to be yours.
Hold on for dear life and enjoy the ride.