Parenthood is pretty routinely a thankless job; though if you’re a parent yourself, you know this deep within your bones.
We all know this by now, don’t we? At the end of the day, we’re awarded no merit badges or standing ovations, no matter how positively we know they’re deserved. At best, we’re rewarded with a cold beer or a perfect glass of wine; at worst, we’re sitting alone with the remnants of our dinner that we never got to finish because we were too busy fighting a great battle against the tiny tyrants who live shamelessly under our roof.
We find ourselves bombarded with outside pressure to keep things in order — to put our best foot forward and to show only what’s neat, tidy and perfectly symmetrical; and on the inside, we pressure ourselves to enjoy every moment because we know exactly how quickly the time tends to pass; but can we? Of course not; we’re human. We bend, and we break. We love our children, but they run us ragged. They run us ragged, but we love them.
I’m torn always between wanting desperately to slow time — to rewind it, even — and to watch in wonder to see who this girl of mine turns into.
We expend every last ounce of our energy caring for, running after, and yet still marveling at these small beings we’ve created, wiping noses and bums like it’s the only thing we were put on this earth to do. And we swear up and down that we used to be people with potential — real, live people with genuine and driven aspirations. But no, a little dictator is hollering at us from the bathroom to deal with some issue big or small. And so, we begrudgingly head down the hall to clean up poop / locate a flicked booger / retrieve Lego from the toilet or some other such thing, feeling all the while so distinctly like the insolent teenagers we could’ve sworn we still were.
I mean, how are we not 18 anymore? And where are the grownups, anyhow? Because a kid is screaming, so somebody better come help out while we hole up in a closet eating ice cream for 10 minutes straight while heaving sighs like the world’s about to end.
But we hate the sound of our children crying; we’re wired that way.
My daughter pinches her finger in a door; her reaction starts out calm and controlled but escalates to full-on wailing quickly. I need to make it stop — but what’s the most efficient way? I smother her in snuggles without thinking, because that’s my instinctual reaction; but then, when that’s not enough, I think, do I try distraction? Gentle hushes? Goofy faces and little tickles? None of it helps — she’s wailing harder — so I scoop her back up in my arms and lay her head down on my shoulder. If I squeeze harder, will she calm? No; that’s not working. So I try to envelop her fully in my arms, leaving no square inch of her torso exposed.
I try my best to absorb her body and her pain, even though I know two minutes from now she’ll be bouncing off the walls again, no evidence of injury aside from two vaguely puffy blue eyes. Regardless, I do everything I can to be everything she needs.
But what can be said for the day upon which I am no longer enough? I dread that day.
I watch with bittersweet joy as my daughter ages steadily in front of my eyes. I’m always torn between wanting desperately to slow time — to rewind it, even — and to watch in wonder to see who this girl of mine becomes. I can’t get enough of her sense of humor, the sound of her voice, her deep questions, or her tender affection. But equally so, I wish desperately for a do-over — a trip back to the beginning, where I could spend more time in gratitude and less in exasperation, frustration, and confusion.
This is the eternal struggle for parents — we wish so badly to have control over the passage of time. We fight our urge to speed things up and instead appreciate every last minute we’re blessed with, while we bargain with the gods to press the Almighty Fast-Forward button during grocery store tantrums, potty training disasters, and failed attempts at getting our children to Go. To. Sleep.
It never ends, we think. Until one day, it does.
It all happens so quickly, even though it feels impossibly slow — because the days are long and the nights are longer, but the years seem to have wings so vast that we barely even register the time at all before it disappears beyond the horizon.
So I’ll scoop up my baby while she still fits in my arms. I’ll weather her storms with as much love as I can muster. And I’ll know, deep within my heart, that sleep will come, that the reward of parenthood is tremendous, and that the ice cream in the closet isn’t going to eat itself. (God help us all.)