Let me set the scene for you: It’s early afternoon and I’m watching my 6-year-old son and 18-month-old daughter play with sidewalk chalk on the actual sidewalk in front of our house. I brought my laptop outside with me because even though I had taken the day off, there was still a crucial conference call that I didn’t feel comfortable missing.
The reason I took the day off is because my toddler began vomiting at 2 am and proceeded to throw up every half hour until 9 am. We ran out of sheets about halfway through the night and ended up sleeping on oversized beach towels, my husband and I trading off on consoling a very sick, very miserable child. All. Night. Long. I was running on two hours of sleep, max. But I felt like I had the situation under control.
My daughter hadn’t thrown up for a few hours and was keeping her Pedialyte down. My son, whom I had kept home from school as a precautionary measure, seemed healthy and happy, albeit a little bit bored. I managed to do some loads of laundry and take a quick shower thanks to all the screens. My kids were playing nicely with each other, the sun was shining down on us, and I was listening intently to my work call.
And that’s when all hell broke loose.
The second I took myself off mute to add to the very important conversation my co-workers were having, my son yelled, “Mooommm! Poop! Poop on the sidewalk!”
I figured he had come across some dog poop and was about to yell back at him not to touch it when I looked over and realized the source of the poop: my other kid.
My daughter’s stomach bug had switched to diarrhea and it was running down both her legs. I quickly ran over to her and scooped her up with one arm, while holding my laptop with the other. With cat-like reflexes, she swung her body around and hit the power button on my laptop, abruptly ending my call and most likely leaving the rest of the folks on the call with a lot to talk about. What is it with toddlers and pushing buttons?! Like literally and figuratively.
I looked down at my white t-shirt and it was brown. My son started gagging. I told him if he was going to throw up, to please do it in a bush. The baby was crying so hard that she was doing that scary breath-holding-face-turning-purple thing while her brother was simultaneously upchucking his chicken nugget lunch in my tulips.
I was covered in sweat and poop and if I’m honest, regret. When my husband had offered to also take the day off from work that morning, so that I could have some backup, I confidently told him I could handle it. He practically ran out the door.
Pro tip: When you smugly tell your spouse that you don’t need their help, it will blow up in your face just about every time.
As I ushered the kids into the house to clean us all up, I heard a voice coming from the porch next door.
“Man, I do NOT miss those days!”
It was my neighbor, Matt, a retired firefighter in his late 50s. Unbeknownst to me, he had witnessed the whole gory scene on the sidewalk.
“Ya know, I just want you to know that I remember how utterly exhausting it is to have small kids. And no matter how many times people tell you you’ll miss it when they’re this little, I call bullshit. I think they just have selective memories. I mean sure, babies are adorable but the sleepless nights, having a person attached to your hip 24/7? Never getting a break? No thanks. Give me teenagers any day of the week.”
I smiled and excused myself… because ya know, screaming baby, puking kid, mom covered in bodily fluids.
But his words stuck with me for the rest of the day. It was like all of a sudden I let go of the impossible expectation to “enjoy every precious moment” of my kids’ childhood. I let go of feeling guilty each time I was simply overwhelmed and craved time away from them. I let go of that sickening sense of nostalgia that makes me think - what if this is the most loved and needed I’ll ever be? What if these are the golden days I’ll look back on and miss? And even worse, what if I don’t miss these days at all? What does that say about me as a mother?
It says that parenting young kids is HARD.
If you’re like me, and you are still cutting grapes in half and reading bedtime stories with animals that talk and buying footie pajamas, then you are most definitely in the trenches of early parenthood. It’s a scary, lonely, maddening place to be sometimes. Most times even.
I feel a constant pull of wanting to do things with my kids (like color and build block towers and play Mario Kart) and wanting to do things for my kids (like make grilled cheese sandwiches and schedule pediatrician appointments and wash bottles and crawl under furniture to retrieve cuddlies and pacifiers). They are not fully self-sufficient yet and so, by default, neither am I.
I’m certainly not saying that I won’t miss any of it. Now that I know that I’m done having babies, will I miss those bleary-eyes newborn days where you spend hours upon hours of your day just holding and gazing at an unbelievably small person who once inhabited your body? Yes. Of course I will. But I will I miss waking up to feed that little miracle every hour on the hour? Not one single bit!
Will I miss those gummy baby smiles with the two tiny teeth popping through at the bottom? Most definitely. But will I miss the absolute misery that is a teething baby? Hell no!
Will I miss the doll-sized clothes? No doubt. But will I miss having to wrestle an overtired toddler into said clothes because we are late getting out the door in the morning… again? Nope! (My son dresses himself these days and it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing).
As for that day on the sidewalk?
Good riddance! 10/10 will skip that page in my parenting history book. I’m simply chalking it up to a bad day (see what I did there?). We all have them and I think that was my neighbor’s point. As parents, we have no choice but to move forward and face another day.
So, maybe you’ll miss these days. Or maybe you won’t. Either way, I hope you’re enjoying the ride.
Our next reco: Tug and Pull - Finding Balance in Motherhood