I am in the thick of those early childhood years. You know the stage (ages 0-8 I suppose/hope) when you look exasperated pretty much all the time and every elder you pass reminds you to cherish these moments because it all goes so fast. I can see the look in their eyes when they come up to me. I know what’s coming. I finish their sentences as they offer their unsolicited wisdom.
I’m not bothered by it. I welcome nondiscriminatory kindness whenever it comes my way. My kids are barely out of diapers and I find myself gushing over babies already. I get it. Children are society’s common bond. We were all children once, and many of us are parents. It is pretty much the only thing all humans on the planet have in common.
And I get where the sentiment of appreciating these times comes from. Just a moment ago I was slicing an apple for my 3-year-old and felt a pang of nostalgia for this past winter when I was regularly doing that for her and her 5-year-old brother after preschool. He’ll be off to Kindergarten in the fall. I’m down to one at home. No more brother and sister sharing apple slices on a school day afternoon. Which is a strange thing to get warm and fuzzy over considering they can share apple slices after school or on a snow day or pretty much any other moment. But this is what parents do.
I allowed myself to bask in that idyllic parenting vision for a moment and then slapped myself back to reality. Because what really happened was they were fighting while I was preparing their snack. When I slipped away to work for a moment, they were sneaking ice cream out of the freezer or writing on the walls or throwing folded laundry all over their room. Bath, books, bed, repeat again the next day, over and over and over.
There is a reason parents of young children look disheveled and ready to crack at any moment. It’s because we are. And sometimes we do crack. Sometimes in public. Sometimes in the car. Sometimes quietly at home. Sometimes loudly at home, so loud our neighbors hear it and we worry about what they think of us.
Parenting is all about survival. Those moments we’re told to cherish, there are a few wonderful ones in each day mixed in with a whole lot of tough stuff.
It is hard. Every phase is hard, I’m told. Perhaps the reason our elders wax poetic on the younger years is because they’ve long forgotten the bad and remember the good. Perhaps it’s because our children snap back and forgive us much faster when they are younger. Perhaps the cuddles aren’t the same as they grow. Perhaps the bad as children grow older is much more serious than the constant maddening behavior young children exhibit. Perhaps the elders I encounter have no idea how dangerous behaviors can be when you have a young child with a disability; or the relief I’ll feel when my youngest can protect herself when needed. Perhaps they’ve never experienced the very real, daily fear of keeping a child with elopement tendencies safe.
I welcomed my moment of rose-colored nostalgia today. I want to look back on these years fondly. But I also made a mental note that this is hard. The 8 years since my oldest was born have been both the most difficult and best of my life. I cherish the many, many good moments. It is important to remember the tough times too. Not just hospitalizations or heartbreak, but the everyday hard. The squabbles, the throwing of toys, the constant mess, the days where you work so hard to make a dinner that everyone refuses to eat, the mornings (literally every morning at our house) where no one will get their shoes on, the arguments with your spouse over ridiculous things that really don’t matter that are fueled by exhaustion and constant frustration.
When you have young children it consumes every part of you – physical, mental, emotional. It’s important to acknowledge that. To honor it. To be kind to ourselves.
It’s also important to remember the not so good, so when we’re the elders we can use a little bit more empathy when we pass our innate wisdom on to strangers at the grocery store.
Note: In the time this was written my daughter dumped the apple slices on the floor, ate half of a nectarine, and just tossed it, spread an entire roll of toilet paper all over the bathroom, and peed on the couch. She is also naked.