7:30 a.m., breakfast finished, and both my little ones transfixed by the sight of themselves on the TV screen: I finally finished editing a year’s worth of home video and decided to let them watch it this morning.
Home videos show so clearly how beautiful life is. Like scrapbooks, they catch the cutest moments, the best memories, and preserve them to be trotted out as a reminder that all of life brims over with sweetness.
And yet lately, I’ve been wrestling a single inner conflict over and over: how to enjoy the moment while acknowledging that not all of it is pretty to look at, much less live through.
I’ve come to a realization in the last few weeks—one that perhaps should have been obvious, but wasn’t. A wonderful lady I know opened my eyes a couple of weeks ago when she commented on my first post on this topic:
“The older he got, the better mother I became. Some women are baby/toddler mothers. I was not one of them. Give me a teenager any day!”
That is the most liberating thought I think I’ve ever heard.
Some parents thrive on early childhood, and mourn its passing. Me? Well…I love little kids—especially mine. 😉 They’re cute, they do adorable things, they’re cuddly. But man! the stakes are high. This is when children learn everything that will shape their world view until the day they die. Of course, no attitude is impervious to change, but the mindset instilled in early childhood is the bedrock of all that comes later. This is true for attitudes, belief systems, and coping strategies, but also for life skills. This is the stage when you have to teach them that no matter how bad they feel, they have to get to the toilet before they throw up. You have to teach them to put their clothes on, to brush their teeth, to put things away—all the self-care skills that we take for granted. Teaching them takes more time and energy than doing it for them (especially when you have a child with special needs). Not only is this stage super-important, but it comes with a heaping side of parental frustration: testing behavior, tantrums, demanding, whining, lots of breakages, and that tiny thing called toilet training.
My husband thinks babies are blobs. No baby is cute; they all look the same—including ours. Around 14-18 months, he really starts enjoying them. “I like them when they can interact with you,” he says.
Now, this does not mean he’s in absentia for the first year. He plans for their future, changes diapers, holds and rocks babies. But it’s a labor of love for him, without much return. He’s just not a baby person.
I am a baby person. But I’ve known since I was a kid that I am not a “toddler/preschool” person. I loathe playing. Once, when I fought with my little sisters, my mom punished me by making me play with them for an hour. Let me tell you—Barbie dolls? PARALYZING boredom! I was on my way to the longest hour of my life when I finagled my way out of it by offering to read them one of my stories. Thus passed the punishment with enjoyment instead of agony. 😉
I’m fully aware that part of my frustration with this part of childhood is a result of overexposure. After all, when Alex was little, I thrived on it; I kept my cool when he tested, thought my way rationally through the tough times. It was empowering to realize I could handle the “terrible two’s.” But with the baby beginning to outpace his big sister right at the testing/skill-learning stage, and her passing so very slowly through it, I’m oversaturated. At least once a day I think, “And you really want to do this all again?”
Alex is coming out of that stage now. The foundations have been laid, and I’m pretty happy with what I see rising from it. I relish his curiosity, his questing, imaginative mind, and his devotion to his friends and family members.
I know I have years of worry left ahead of me. Another five or six years, and hormones are going to kick in. Who knows what the results will be? But I do know this: we have a foundation of trust to help us through the teenage years. That’s a really gratifying thing to realize, and so for now, I have to struggle through the foundation-laying for my other children. It’s my turn to act in love, even when it’s hard and sometimes unrewarding.