New parenthood is special, but its also tough. When that uninterrupted bathroom break finally comes, you should celebrate
It was a bedraggled summer afternoon more than a decade ago. I was strolling down the street with my two young daughters. Lucy, the preschooler, was whirling around ahead of me, seemingly determined to fall on her face, while Beatrice, the baby, was squirming and giving me back strain in the baby carrier.
I had not experienced a solid five hours of sleep in months. I had mastitis, so I was wearing cabbage leaves in my bra. Because I lived in a beautiful, gentrifying neighborhood that was still populated with a sprinkling of wise old-timers, I daily had some stranger approach me and sagely advise, Enjoy it now. It goes by so fast.
But on this day, as I nodded gently in fake gratitude to the tip, I made a promise to myself. Ill try to enjoy it, I thought. And I will never, ever say that to another parent. I will remember that it doesnt go by so fast when youve been up since 4:30. I will remember that not all of this is very enjoyable at all.
Now, that daredevil preschooler is a 16-year-old high school junior with a packed social schedule. The baby who kept me up nights is a middle schooler who could, if eye-rolling were an Olympic event, be a gold medalist. Sometimes I look at them and wistfully realize that they will never again fall asleep in my lap as I read them Goodnight Moon. I will never hear them hilariously mispronounce elevator or ambulance. I will not push them on swings, or feed them applesauce as we watch Sesame Street together. That door is closed.
I feel remarkably OK about that.
Exhausted, overwhelmed parents of young children, let me assure you that, yes, this time in your childrens lives is precious and beautiful and intimate and full of magic and discovery. But no, you do not need anybody to chide you into appreciating it. Im sure you already do. Im also sure you sometimes cant even imagine a barefoot walk across the living room floor that doesnt end in a Lego-related howl of pain. Im sure the last five movies you saw involved talking animals. Im sure the idea of a trip to the bathroom for yourself with nobody banging on the other side of the door sounds like a vacation in a four star hotel.
Well guess what? That uninterrupted bathroom break will come. And it wont be sad. Itll be awesome.
Recently, a friend came in from out of town for business, and do you know what we did? We met up for drinks. At 4pm. My purse has zero Cheerio dust in it. I havent heard the Kidz Bop version of a contemporary pop song in a good three years. Sometimes, on the weekend, I sleep past 8am.
It helps very much that I happen to think my daughters have grown up to be pretty great people. They dont need me to tie their shoes, but they can make dinner. They dont make me pipe cleaner art, but they can talk about politics and movies and books theyve read. They are interesting, engaged young women I like as individuals as much as I love them as my flesh and blood. That cuddly puppy phase of their lives was uniquely sweet, but seeing smart, independent young people launching into the world? Thats sweet too.
I think when people get inordinately nostalgic for their childrens youths, theyre really being nostalgic for their own. Id be lying if I said I didnt miss that young mom version of myself, the one with fewer lines on her face and flawless eyesight. I know that I associate my girls babyhood with a period of my own life, before a marital crisis and two bouts of cancer and the death of my best friend.
But I also remember how grateful I was when a friends parent lovingly told me, when my kids were little: These are hard years. So I try to hang on to the truth of that time, of what it was like when I couldnt just take a shower when I wanted, when an end-of-the-day tantrum could mean a child lying prone in the middle of the supermarket, making a spectacular scene. Sometimes when I see another parent whose kid is losing it in public, I just want to go over and reassure: It gets better.
There are so many joys of having older children, and of being older oneself. Believe it. Dont let anybody arrogantly make you feel like youre not stopping to smell the roses enough when youve spent your day wiping noses instead. Im here from your future, to tell you that it hasnt gone by too fast. It hasnt gone by at all. The story is still being told. And every chapter holds its own wonders.