I am closing in on almost two years of being a parent. When I found out I was pregnant, I came out of the bathroom, hugged my friend (now Bella’s Godfather) in a state of complete disbelief and went right back into the bathroom and laughed. Hard. For about half an hour. I suddenly understood the Old Testament story of Sarah laughing when she found out she was finally pregnant. It is not, as some would think, something to cry about. A surprise child can only mean good things are coming. For me, I was at an interesting time in my life. In less than a year, I lost my father to cancer after a 3-year battle and the almost 4-year relationship with the man I thought I would marry had ended. I was running daily, doing yoga, drinking too much, and for the first time in my life, thought it might be fun to have a casual summer fling. I thought all of these things would help me deal with the pain I was feeling and get me back into life somehow. Grief has a funny way of turning your life upside down, especially when cancer is involved. Anne Lamott says when you lose someone to cancer, it’s a like an atomic bomb goes off in your family. Your entire life explodes and you do everything you can just to feel again. You find yourself standing there in the rubble with no idea where to start to rebuild your life. At the time, even destructive behavior somehow feels like maybe it will help.
I was also at a point in my life when I wasn’t sure I could have kids. After all, let’s be honest, even in 2012, 34 was considered a little late to be starting in on the first child. If a woman reaches her mid 30s and has not had children, the possibility and hope for children begins to fade and she starts focusing on other things that will make her happy and fill up her life. It’s dumb, but it happens. Believe me. Furthermore, I wasn’t sure I even wanted kids. Being an aunt is WAY easier (and cheaper) and you still get some of the same rewards. I definitely didn’t know if I had any idea what it took to be a parent, let alone a good one.
But, there she was, this squiggly little bean on a sonogram with that huge heart just beating away. That’s the moment for a lot of us when we just say, “ok, let’s do this!” So I did.
And, so far, I have loved every minute. My daughter is my joy. She has brought nothing but love and light into my life and she teaches me something new everyday. So, with my third Mother’s Day only a few days behind me, I decided to share a few things I have learned so far. Last time I did something like this, people added to my list and I loved the additions, so please feel free to share. Life is a constant education and the happiness and comedy that comes from lessons in parenthood is worth sharing.
- Time goes so quickly. Spend every moment you can with your child. You will never get these moments back.
- Always coordinate spaghetti night with bath night. Trust me. This goes for Guacamole night also.
- Don’t buy a new sofa or furniture when you are pregnant. Despite all your efforts to protect it, your toddler WILL figure out how to destroy it. Enjoy the pen and crayon marks and the juice stains. It gives your furniture a distinctive character. It’s practically a piece of art. When your child is a little older, you can treat yourself to a whole new set of furniture.
- Let your child make a mess. Let them and see the beauty in it. In less than two minutes, Bella managed to cover herself, the cat, and the entire kitchen and dining room with cornstarch. I didn’t even know we had cornstarch. It was such a huge mess that I couldn’t do anything but laugh and take photos! Then I spent the entire morning cleaning it up. Which, of course, caused Bella to laugh. Things you think may annoy you or make you mad just don’t when your child is involved. In fact, there was almost a little pride inside me that day!
- You can do this! Even when you’re at your wits end and it seems like everything is going wrong, you will find that somehow, everything works out exactly like it’s supposed to. Money or time might be tight. Your child may be having an endless tantrum. Or maybe you feel like you will never get to the bottom of the pile of dishes or laundry. I am a marathon runner. There is a point in marathons when you hit a wall. For me, it is mile 22. You just feel like you cannot do it. It happened for me again when I was 26+ hours into labor. I wanted to give up. This WILL happen in parenthood. Then your child grabs your face with both hands, squeezes your cheeks, and gives you a big kiss and “I uv you Mama!” All the sudden, your second wind comes and you finish the race, push out that baby, or put away that last dish or pile of laundry. Children have a funny way of being the oxygen we need right before we’ve taken our last breath.
- Be flexible. When I found out I was pregnant, I learned that I had to throw my plans out the window. I stopped worrying about what life was “supposed” to look like. Life amazes me everyday and by going with the flow and accepting the gifts life gives you, you will find that the world is a brilliant and incredible place.
- Turn off the TV. Go to the park. Color. Play with blocks. Dance. Your kid will love it and you are in a unique place in life where you get to act like a kid right along with them and no one will judge you for it. Embrace that and soak it in while you can.
- Tell your kids you love them. Tell them often. Tell them several times a day. If they get in trouble at school or at home, tell them you love them anyway. Hug often. There are enough assholes in the world. Don’t create another one. When children know they are loved and accepted, they will love and accept others. As parents, we have the power to create a generation of loving compassionate people and it doesn’t cost us a thing to do so!
- Don’t compare your child to other children. She (or he) is going to walk when she walks, talk when she talks, and learn at her own pace. Capture each “first” and enjoy it! Stop worrying about whether she is at the right development stage. I wanted Bella to walk so badly and talk so soon. Now I can’t keep her still or quiet! I miss the earlier stages and wish I had soaked them in a little more instead of worrying what came next. Now I’ve made it a rule to just learn and enjoy each day as it comes. You’ll be surprised at all the little cool things they do each day when you’re not thinking about what will happen tomorrow.
- Listen to your child. Listen. Listen. Listen. Bella sings to me and talks to me constantly. I barely know what she is saying to me most of the time, but I put down my phone, turn off the TV, and give her my full attention. I’ve worked with teens now for almost 15 years as either a counselor or a teacher. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that they just want someone who will really listen to them. Be that someone for your child. It is never too early or too late to start.