Yesterday, I fell on the ice. Hard. On a second story outdoor walkway. Flat, bam, on my back and head. It was really awful.
It's some kind of miracle that I'm not concussed. I can sit here for a few minutes typing, but my back is painful, and my internal organs feel all jumbled up. I feel lucky I wasn't more hurt, but this week is going to be a doozy.
Maybe feeling like my spleen and my pancreas have switched places is making me cranky, but today I'm going to tackle the holy grail of parenting topics: the blessed gratitude for all things children do, lest we forget that they will only be children for a short period of time.
I now have an eight-year old. She can do most things for herself, and she genuinely wants to help when I need help. Yesterday, for example, when I was hurt, she comforted me, brought me my kindle and my phone when I asked for them ("Don't get up, Mom! Rest!"), sat next to me and respected my physical boundaries when I said, "Ouch, could you scoot over a bit?" and even (gasp!) went to her room to read when I said I needed some time by myself.
Having an eight-year old compared to a three-year old is like owning a car versus a bike. All of the eight-year old's activities cost more money and are more complicated, but generally speaking, we don't have to put in nearly as much minute-to-minute effort as one does with a three-year old just to keep going. Actually, if I remember correctly, having a toddler/preschooler is like owning a bike, but a bike that you have to assemble every morning, all while having someone continuously beg you for milk, but not in the blue cup, only in the red cup, but not with the yellow lid facing right, but with the...well, you get the idea.
With an appreciation for my daughter's newfound ability to see me as an actual person, not just as her mother, I have recently read a lot of online pieces about how we must always be grateful for these tiny people we love who wear us down and keep us awake and never stop asking for help. In the roughest of moments, we should remember that, someday, our houses will be empty, and we will wish we had a sweet little person waking us up for cuddles, or a sticky little hand (that has left marks everywhere) to clean. We must appreciate the chaos. Profess that we remember no time without them in our homes, and wouldn't even want to remember those times if we could. We must embrace and love the whole package, unabashedly.
Okay, I get it. I'm not a total jerk. Of course we should appreciate the reality of our situations, even when they are tiring and messy, because fighting reality only makes things harder. And yes, we should accept the things that come with being the parent of a little kid when our kids are, in fact, little, and dependent on us in a primal way. Little kids, aside from being totally needy and often annoying, are also hilariously funny, hopeful, loving, interesting, etc. You can't have just one side of the coin, you get both, that's the deal. Being grateful for all of what you have is always a good tool for happiness.
THAT BEING SAID, I'm glad my kid isn't little anymore. I didn't embrace all of that chaos, sleeplessness, or (ACK) stickiness with perfect aplomb. (Our running joke in the house is this: "What does Mom like least about parenting? Answer from the kiddo, with a huge laugh: "BEING STICKY.")
I'm just going to come out and say that, if you are home with a little right now, and feel like your entire day is having orders barked at you by someone who is overtired (but refuses naps), demanding (but cannot articulate himself), and generally unpredictable (and with whom you cannot have a rational conversation), you don't have to say that you like this, just because someday that toddler might be an accountant who lives in Portland and only visits you once a year.
I wonder, sometimes, as I read the accounts of never-ending blessed gratitude, as I call this phenomenon, if they are helpful to parents in that they reaffirm that it is nice to be needed, to be relied upon, to be trusted. Little kids do give you those feelings, when you really have time to assess what you do for them, outside the haze of trying to keep shoes on them while being kicked in the face, as they scream, "No shoes! No! No!" even though the only places they want to spend time require shoes.
The thing is, our whole job as parents is to release our kids into the world, step-by-step. We bond with them in this incredible way, becoming the unique individuals placed on this earth to provide for their growth and development, but we're always mindful that the finish line is them leaving. This isn't a death sentence, something to be used as a hammer to make you appreciate every second that you are now spending with them. Yes, that precious time with little ones will go away, and you will have an empty house, but you might like a lot of things about that house, too, just as you might like every stage of their increasing independence.
With this in mind, I'd like to start a greeting card line called "Finish Line," with age appropriate cards like this:
For parents of a newborn:
Congratulations! You will smell like vomited milk most of the time, but you will be too tired to care. Your child is wonderful. Here's wishing you a healthy first year, and a shower at least twice a week.
For the parents of a toddler:
Congratulations! Your kid doesn't need to wake you up to feed all night long anymore. He may still wake you up, but there are some books about that. Here's wishing you find a babysitter for two dates this year, using the money saved by skipping a gym membership. Your workouts are now just chasing your child, and your portion control is eating the scraps off their plates.
For the parents of a preschooler:
Congratulations! While they are in school for a few hours each morning, you may finally be able to go to the bathroom without an audience. Enjoy all this decadence.
For the parents of a kindergartner:
Congratulations! Your kid can probably get their own breakfast if you set out cereal and milk in small containers. Maybe you can sleep a little later? Oh, wait, you had another baby last year. Forget about that. Be proud of yourself when the older kid's hair is brushed.
For the parents of an elementary kid:
Congratulations! Your child now understands that you have needs and wishes of your own. They will still put their own needs and wishes first 92% of the time, but that 8% can be savored. Sorry about all the homework now running your lives.
I have to stop there, as my kid is only in third grade, but I can imagine that at some point, I may be able to say, "Hurray! My kid no longer needs a babysitter, now my husband and I can go out and see movies again without paying $150 a pop!" Wow, that will be a really great day—the Oscars will make sense again! That's something to look forward to in that quiet, kid-free house, for sure.
Parents, I'd love to hear your ideas for these cards. Add them in the comments. I'll be checking them in between Advils, for which I am truly grateful.