In my younger days when I had only one child on my hip, I was an expert on parenting. There were only good and bad parents and I was, of course, in the first group. Always.
Now I have four under the age of 16 which inducts me into the “hanging on by a thread” style of parenting and I dabble in the good as well as the bad. I used to think the following were pure, unadulterated evil: pop tarts, white bread, child leashes, grocery store trips at dinnertime, school buses, and portable electronics.
Also in my younger, simpler days, road trips would follow my planned script:
Act 1: Scene 1: Eat junk food.
Act 1: Scene 2: All children fall asleep in unison with Twizzlers hanging out of their mouths.
Act 1: Scene 3: My husband and I hold hands and talk about life plans while listening to Dave Matthews or anything not produced by Disney.
Act 1: Scene 4: Children wake up in unison 45 minutes pre-arrival to whine, scream and pee.
I can take 45 minutes.
What I can’t take is 4 hours, which is what I dealt with on our ride back from Thanksgiving years ago after visiting family and friends in Minnesota.
The entire way home, I was the candy-snack dispenser, the entertainer and the shusher. Instead of synchronized slumber, one would sleep while the others placed their snack orders, then they’d pass the baton to the next squalling child until all had had equal amounts of screaming and sleeping.
It was a maniac’s version of emotional dominoes. And despite my best scriptwriting, we took a left turn on south side of Sanity. About halfway home, my husband glanced over to see me rocking rhythmically, my forehead intermittently hitting the window, fingers in ears, droning, “We. Are. Getting. A. DVD. Player. For. The .Van.” Maybe I was tired or full of Thanksgiving starches, but I simply had not an ounce of patience, sympathy or sense of entertainment.
It wasn’t helped by the fact that the back row was having an ongoing dispute as to the proper way of eating Trail Mix. Our third child is a lover of all things sweet–not so much a fan of almonds. Our oldest felt it was her sole duty to report such misdeeds to the authorities. That would be me. And that would be declared over and over. And over.
So, Ms. Omniscient demands a trial on discrimination against almonds and peanuts while Ms. Sweet Tooth defends herself (with chocolate smeared lips) that she most assuredly not just eating the chocolate.
Fast forward a month to the Sunday before Christmas when we have all had therapy, are dressed cute and sitting in church. The feeling in the chapel was different being Christmas and all. I began to look around and notice so many families with children and grandchildren visiting. The mothers/grandmothers were glowing brighter than the Bethlehem star and you could sense it took all their energy to not gather the clan in a continuous bear hug.
For the most part, all the returning kinfolk looked normal and functional in society. They all just looked so happy and unified passing chubby babies sprouting pigtails with red bows up and down the pew. That’s when my epiphany arrived and hit me on the back of the head like a bag of unshelled almonds.
Motherhood is like the back row’s Trail mix: you can’t just pick out the parts you don’t like and keep all the sweet and tender moments.
You can’t leave out the stomach flu, the tantrums, the sibling fights, the whining, the screaming and the sleepless nights anymore than you can pick through a 12 oz. bag, only eating the milk chocolate. It’s just not as good as when you get a whole handful of nutty-chocolate goodness.
Those moments of craziness and emotional skirmishes somehow, in a twisted way, knit you closer together. Somehow after those challenging moments pass, your love and mutual understanding increases.
And someday twenty years from now, when I’m not sleep deprived and banging my head against Plexiglas, I’ll be snuggling infants with 9” leg girth that I can pass down the pew, too.
It’s worth it.
It’s all worth it.