Sixteen years ago, I consulted friends, family, pregnancy books and child development classes to help me prepare me for my impending motherhood. All sources regretted to inform me of four important items which I will share with you now. Today. Because I’m a giver.
First off, in the hospital if you deliver non-cesarean (Fine, I’ll just say it: vaginally. Or if you deliver without the help of a large scalpel), once your baby is cleaned off and you finagle a feeding and you finally settle in to sleep for five minutes (or five seconds), a nurse will sweetly walk in the room and in a very non-threatening way say “Let’s just take a peek down here and see how everything looks” and then WHAMO! Inexplicably, in that split second when you blinked, she armed herself with brass knuckles and literally made your belly button meet your spine.
I said through gritted teeth, “What. Are. You. Doing. To. Me?” She finished up and nonchalantly reported she was “massaging my uterus” because it needed to be a certain size before leaving the hospital. I wanted to tell her that I am quite comfortable with looking permanently three months pregnant, thank you very much. Furthermore, if that was a “massage”, I’d sure hate to see what a C-section looks like around here—what do you use—a machete?
Numero dos: Babies and small children poop in the tub. Someone back me up on this one or maybe my children are the only ones who let it all hang out in the tub. I had quite a few people warn me about sleep issues with newborns, hormonal imbalance and the like but NO ONE—AND I DO MEAN NO ONE— warned me that children at a certain age relax and poop in the tub.
The first few times almost threw me into cardiac arrest: what do you do first: take the kid out all covered in poop germs? Where do you put them? What do you do with all the now-poopy toys? To what degree do you sanitize whilst children are shivering in their now-poopy towel? And lastly, can you Lysol someone’s entire genome?
Prepare yourself, my friend for the poop will come. And it floats.
Number three: You start talking in 3rd person. It all starts out so innocently. You lift your chubby baby, nuzzle their soft, sweet neck and whisper in their teensy ear, “Mommy loves you! Mommy loves you!” until it morphs into a scary toddler horror movie:
“Mommy’s going to the bathroom now.”
“No, Mommy doesn’t want you to follow her.”
“No, Mommy’s not going to tell you if Mommy has to poop or pee.”
“Mommy needs privacy.”
No, not piracy, PRIVACY.”
“Ok, Mommy’s going to close the door now.”
“Mommy needs you to move your fingers.”
Lastly, my mea culpa: don’t take it personally. Any of it. The kid who won’t nap, sullen responses from tweens, rage-filled tantrums over a red popsicle instead of a blue one, the messy room, the refusal to eat anything green, the sassy eye-roll, the unfolding of laundry, the dumping of dirt on your just vacuumed floor, the poor grades due to all assignments being shoved into a backpack (completed!) and never seeing the light of day; everything.
Don’t take it personally. This is by far (BY FAR) the hardest lesson of parenthood that is equally applicable to raising a three month old, thirteen year old and a thirty year old.
Here’s what not taking it personally looks like—I call it channeling my inner DMV agent: you are somewhat bemused my misbehavior, hedged in by “the unalterable rules” and are due for a break commencing in five minutes and therefore, powerless to fix it. Your behavior doesn’t equate ambivalence, however. You do care and are concerned but you also realize that the responsibility for hitting the ball is firmly, permanently in their court and you are the coach, the encourager and the sometimes covering-your-eyes-because-it’s-too-painful-to-watch-er.
Remember, this is Parenting: the Master’s course. This takes such extreme concentration, maturity and super-human mental toughness that my success rate is in the low 40% range, but I continue to practice. Just a warning, though: when you morph into your DMV Superhero costume, they will fight back with their own high-level childish tricks: whining, hollering, and all sorts of high-class manipulations (Read Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster W. Cline and Jim Fay for great examples and pointers).
Stay strong, take a break, breathe deeply and remember that you sorta wanted them at one point.
When I go out with all four children and one in a wheelchair, strangers often say, “You have your hands full!” I smile and reply, “Well, it keeps me out of trouble!” But what I really want to do is to stare at them and flatly reply,“OB-VIOUSLY.”
But maybe they’re right and maybe they’re helping me realize the joy instead of the tragic comedy like floating poop, dangerous nurses and strange baby-talk that is my daily life. Maybe my hands are full–full of what matters. Full of hyper, smiley (sometimes surly) kids who like to lick fingers, tell knock-knock jokes and surprise me with hugs. Full of wackiness and whimsy that I wouldn’t trade it for anything–even a sterilized tub.