Parenting is, of course, the most consuming, challenging and exhausting task that I have ever involved myself in. Some days I ask: “What were we thinking???” And on the other days, I just don’t ask. Speaking of “we,” I readily admit that marriage is a very close second in this listing of difficult things known to humankind.
It was fifteen years ago today that I first became a mother. And how well I remember that incredible day — the moments of fear when I faced the unknowns, the moments of elation when I realized what I had gained. Holding that tiny six pound baby boy swaddled in a receiving blanket, I knew a love I had never known before. I knew a fierce need to shelter and protect that I had heretofore never experienced. I knew so much in that instant I saw his precious baby face.
I knew so little.
Sons are interesting characters. They cling close to their mamas until they reach toddler stage, and then they can’t seem to get enough of their dads. Dads hold the world in the palms of their hands, or so it seems to bright-eyed little boys. I have watched my son and his dad grow closer over the years, and I am so thankful that they have each other. Particularly in light of the fact that they are also outnumbered in our family of six (complete with four girls). This relationship they share is a gift, one not to be taken lightly. I know neither does; never would they.
In honor of my son’s 15th birthday and due to the fact that it is also the anniversary of my 15th year being a mama, here are 15 things I know now that I didn’t know back then.
1.) Every moment is a gift, and of course meant to be cherished; but some moments are meant to just be “lived,” and then we move on. We don’t have to make everything special. Everything extraordinary. Sometimes life is just meant to be experienced mundanely, in the everyday ordinary routine of life. This too is precious.
2.) Kids don’t always need entertainment — the more entertainment/amusement, the less imagination/creativity (at least in the world I grew up in — which means it still holds true for my fearless four. Because I say so.).
3.) Sincere apologies are best taught through humble parental modeling.
4.) Some things — like burps and flatulence and mysterious smells from the bathroom and spilled popcorn on the bed and Vaseline on the couch and chocolate chips all over the floor and canned goods on top of the baby — while startling, are not worth blowing a major artery over. Live and learn.
5.) Seeing your child show kindness to others will make your heart swell in ways that temporary academic or sporting accomplishments never could.
6.) Patience is a virtue, but when in short supply, time-outs for mama in the bathroom/quick exits from the scene of disaster also work.
7.) Four kids is a lot of kids. But then again, so was one.
8.) The question “will I love the second (third, fourth) as much” is entirely not worth entertaining for even one little second; the answer is always yes, yes, YES! To the moon and back again. Every single time.
9.) Sometimes Mamas make mistakes. Moving on…
10.) Screaming is not the most effective form of communication.
11.) Mamas are not meant to be their children’s best friends. (that is, until said offspring start to pay for their own bills and have an income. When this miracle occurs, the boundaries are redefined.)
12.) The crucial life lessons your mama taught you about responsibility, safety, security and common sense (lessons and rules that you loathed back when you were ages five to 19) — they will fall from your own tongue like pearls of wisdom to your precious babies AS IF IN YOUR OWN FORMER CHILDISH OPINION THEY WERE ALWAYS GOLDEN.
13.) There is next to nothing you will not do for your child, including acting like an idiot in public on occasion (think: jumping up and down at photo shoots), going to the ends of the earth for them and resorting to begging/bartering on their behalf. Incidentally, these rules do not always apply after 15 years parenting as you have prioritized your ability to please and thus included yourself in this lottery.
14.) Parenting in year one is very different than parenting in year 15. For one thing, where you once were completely trusting and naïve, now you are a bit of a sly old shrew. Also, you are more sarcastic.
15.) You realize that although there are still some days you threaten to jump ship and escape to the nearest available carnival troupe, there is nothing on this beautiful planet you would rather be doing than mothering four of the brightest, most beautiful children God’s hands ever fashioned. And that is the plain and simple truth.
Nicholas Sparks has said parenting is “one of the hardest things you’ll ever do but in exchange it teaches you the meaning of unconditional love.” I am thankful for the ways in which my heart has learned to expand and grow in four different directions these past 15 years.
And I am thankful that love is still growing and expanding even as I ready myself to parent through the next 15 years.