“Parenting is basically devoting the rest of your life to growing your kids up to leave you.”
This is what my husband said to me within the first month of being home with our newborn daughter, which was a really wise decision on his part since I was feeling super hormonally balanced and not at all emotional.
But he wasn’t wrong. And frankly, of all the tips and tricks of parenting, all of the advice, all of the quote-able quotes, this is the phrase that runs through my mind the most. I mean, sometimes it’s too much for me to bear to think about, because why on earth would I lose this much sleep, give up this much privacy, and be washing off this much of someone else’s sneezes and poop and vomit from my body if they’re just gonna’ high five me as they walk out the door someday to go live life without my oversight?
Why? Because that’s parenting, apparently, and all of you parents who tricked me into doing this because of the beauty and magic of it all are lying liars who didn’t tell me how much I’d cry over the beauty and magic of it all and also the heartache! Lying liars!
The other day, our oldest turned four. And we knew that she turned four because it was the first thing she mentioned when her eyes opened that morning, and the only thing she mentioned on a loop for the next 100 hours. She’s four, so now she’s a big kid. She’s four, so now she is taller than she was yesterday. She’s four, so she’s pretty sure that she’s basically almost a grown-up. And when she’s grown up, she’s really excited to be taller and get to do flips, because those were the two selling points for her of wanting to speed up and get herself into adulthood already. Clearly, her dad and I have made adulting look incredibly tall and flippy.
But twice a year, on each of their birthdays, I take a few moments to reflect on the past year. What did it look like for them, what did it look like for us? And then I start getting emotional as I describe my feelings about it all to Ian while he’s trying to eat his pulled pork sandwich and is confused as to why we’re crying again. But also, he’s used to it after four years, and so he just nods appropriately and waits for me to stop so we can watch tv…until six months from now when it’s Fiona’s birthday and I’m re-living the day she was born and how magical and heartbreaking parenting is.
Which it is. But it’s also mundane and normal. It’s cleaning up the poke-y toys that hurt the bottom of your feet while cursing your kid’s name under your breath because JUST PUT YOUR SHIT AWAY, for-the-love-of-God. It’s packing the lunches and folding the clothes and washing the dishes and wiping their noses and reminding them to wipe and reminding them of manners and driving them everywhere and comforting them and celebrating them and counting the minutes until your husband gets home because you don’t want to be the dragon anymore and “don’t you want to wait until daddy gets home so he can be the dragon and I can go sit inside by myself?”
That’s what parenting is, too. And as they keep getting inexplicably older every time I blink, I try to hang onto it all, while knowing that that’s impossible. And I’ll cry about how they’ll never be this little again and Ian will Google “how do I get Xanax quickly for my wife.”
And parenting, if we do our jobs, is growing them up to be confident, independent, kind people…who leave us. I mean, hopefully they also come back regularly to make sure that we’re still, you know, there. And hopefully they like us enough to still want to eat together sometimes and talk about books and movies and who they’re dating and what their dreams are and which boring job they took so that they can baby-step towards that dream. But really, all of the tears and all of the baby giggles and all of the carpools and all of the money and all of the movie nights and all of the tantrums and all of the vacations and all of the story times and all of the slammed doors and all of the “I love you’s” and all of the little moments will add up to be their foundation. The foundation to maybe do the same for their kids someday. And then, and only then, will they come back to you and say, “Oh my god, mom, I finally get it.”
And it’ll all be worth it. Because you’d do it all again without blinking, knowing the good, bad, ugly, and mundane of it all. Because, as it turns out, that’s parenting.
So now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go get a tissue because I’m f’ing crying again. Which, apparently, is also a much larger part of parenting that nobody talks about. Thanks a lot, kids.