Tuesday, April 19, 2016

No More Babies Here

There is something about a child turning six years old that definitively says, "This kid is no longer little" to me.  All the birthdays after six are about "big kid" accomplishments and behaviors.  It is truly bittersweet, even after being told by veteran mothers to slow down and enjoy my kids' baby years, and feeling like I slowed down as much as I could and spent as much time with them doing baby and toddler things, that I still wish I had done better.



Of course, had I "done better," I'd have gone insane--I never understood why people said being a mom was "the hardest job" while I was raising toddlers and babies; but, now, looking back on it, I am completely amazed that I got through that.  It's a chapter of life that is very physically demanding, mentally demanding, and it. never. stops.  You are constantly trying to protect a human being with very little in the way of logic skills from constantly killing themselves, which, understandably, takes up a lot of your time.  And then they finally go to bed and you get to make the decision about whether or not you're going to do one of two things:

  1. Catch up on your other responsibilities, or
  2. Rest.
It all boils down to that, and no matter which one I chose, I always felt like I should also be doing the other one at the same time.  It was years of feeling stuck in a no-win situation every night.  Because it was a no-win situation.  I could pat myself on the back and remind myself that the kids were happy and healthy, and that's what mattered most, and be a little stern with myself to stop fixating on the imperfections, and I'd rest uneasily with that truth.  But truly, I like things to be done right, and I wanted to do all the things every day and go to bed with the feeling that "everything" was done.  And it bugged me royally to go through all those years feeling like things were not "done;" to force myself to choose the priority of relationships over order.  With choosing order, you get instant gratification; with choosing relationships, you simply get to hope that what you did that day will matter in twenty years.  And that feels like a big gamble.

But then, because life is life, you have to find a balance between the two!  Because, while spending time with your wee ones is always well and good, you also need to eat, you need clean clothes, and you need to not live in a cesspool of germs.  It was always a tightrope walk routine for me--how much time could I spend with my children before the dishes in the sink start to stink?  Would my child remember this time that I chose vacuuming over playing a board game with them, and resent me?  It sounds almost silly to even write that down now, but goodness, was I ever consumed by those kinds of thoughts for the past twelve years.

I really didn't like being told that my job was hard during those years--people have been raising babies for centuries, I had machines to do most of my dirty work, and none of my children had disabilities.  It always felt like people were trying to elevate something very ordinary to make themselves feel better about their life choices or something.  Raising kids is just...life.  The praise felt condescending at times.

But now, I look back on it and think, "Oh my goodness, you are freakin' amazing.  That was hard."  I couldn't see it while I was in it, and I didn't know that it would ever be any different because I've never raised kids before, but not having babies and toddlers is a completely different game.

Monkeyboy helping in the garden, 2011.
I am in the process of rebooting my garden after two years of neglect, and it's very slow-going because I have to respect my poor back's limitations.  The front garden looks rather OK, and it's a raised bed that I can somewhat handle on my own, but the back garden is a nightmare that I can't even begin to tame without the threat of serious re-injury.  I was standing in the back yard, surveying the chaos and trying to come up with a gameplan, when I had a lightning-flash of realization: my kids are no longer babies and toddlers.  As in, they can help me with the garden.

So I called them on out, explained what needed doing, assigned them each an area to work, and we got going.  What would have taken me two hours and confined me to my bed for a day afterwards was done in ten minutes.  We talked to each other while pulling the weeds, and the kids hovered about me afterwards while we continued our conversation.

And after they had wandered back to whatever they were doing before I called them outside, I sat in dumbfounded amazement, remembering all the years that we'd spent in the back yard with me on the verge of a nervous breakdown as they tried to help and truthfully just made almost everything worse--the year I finally put in some peonies, only to have the kids pinch off every. single. bud. because they thought they were helping me with weeding; the year that one kid kept picking all the green strawberries because "they tasted gross" and she thought she was doing everyone a favor by throwing them away; the millions of times that balls and toys have accidentally destroyed every living thing in the garden.  Years later, all of those things are stories we laugh about at the dinner table.  But in those moments, they felt like constant impediments that were keeping me from rising to a vision I had for our home and family.  Ironically, those are the moments that make up some of our family's most treasured history.



We will have peonies now; despite the rough start those poor plants have had, peony bouquets will be part of my children's memories.  That one growing season's failures did not dictate the entire story of peonies in our lives.  It was but a moment.  They learned not to pinch the peony buds and we have years of peonies ahead of us.  We will have strawberries, and we will have other plants.  All those so-called "setbacks" were simply moments, NOT permanent storyline endings.

On the other side of the babies and toddlers phase, I can say that I have learned patience, and that I have learned the worth of a soul in comparison to all the other "stuff" in life.  I wouldn't have the patience now to teach my children about weeding if I hadn't gone through their toddler days with them--now I am so ridiculously grateful to be able to explain a task and have it performed somewhat sufficiently.  Gone are the days of nitpicking about tiny imperfections; if you didn't kill my plants while trying to weed, I'm pretty OK with a little bit of rogue weeds left behind--we'll get 'em next week.  My kids probably wouldn't care enough about these plants in the garden to ask about them had they not seen me caring for them all those years.  There have been so many lessons, and so much foundation laid already for them, and it's humbling to think that all those normal, ordinary days ended up mattering so much.  We remember and talk most about the big days, but it is the small and ordinary days that make us who we are.

We're heading into the teenage years, and I'm going to be honest and admit that I do worry a lot about these years.  Relationships are hard for me, and talking to people is hard for me.  I am too easily consumed by my creative projects, and chatter...ugh, chatter grates upon my soul at times.  But I know that talking is a big, important part of the teenage years, and that, even though they'll start becoming more and more independent, teenagers still need a lot of your time.  Based upon my experiences as a teenager, I fully intend to always lean towards the more "involved" option when it comes to parenting my own teenagers.  I make no apologies for that.  I've witnessed way too much of the "distance yourself" option and most of the time I don't like the end result, so I will lean towards over-involvement.

And we'll get through it all.  I don't know what I'm going to look like on the other side of this chapter, but the human race has kept going, so I think we're going to be OK, ha ha.  Mistakes will be made, regrets will happen, and lessons will be learned.  And years later, once the dust settles, we'll be thankful for the things we learned amidst the difficult moments, and we'll have kept pushing through the difficult moments because of fleeting happy moments that remind us of the joy of our daily lives and the joy that awaits us if we'll only just keep working towards those big, crowning moments of happiness.

I am so thankful to be a mother and wife.  I am so thankful for this life I lead.  I'm thankful for my "full hands" of many children, and I'm glad for the memories we can now laugh about that, once upon a time, made me think I was going to lose my mind.  Everything turns out OK in the end, and toddlers become big kids that stop destroying things.  All that matters to me now is that I wish I had kept that in mind during those years.  I worry that hasty, angry words may have found a permanent resting place in my children's hearts, and that makes me so sad.  I hope that is not the case.

Me, Penguin, and Bluebird, 2007-ish.

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for the chance to have babies and to be driven insane by toddlers and sassy preschoolers.

Junebug's Blessing, 2008
Please bless that the negative moments are softened in their memories, and that their hearts are full of love and good thoughts.  Please bless us in this next chapter that we can remember the big, over-arching point of all this living, and to behave ourselves and not hurt each other with words or actions.

Please bless us with more time in the garden together.

Please bless me to be able to focus on my children, and please help me to ignore the leftover weeds.


  1. wow, those are some great photos of you enjoying motherhood! It's nice to know you have no major regrets looking back. :-)


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