It’s the new year, and I’ve been thinking about Dan Savage’s video balm for gay teenagers, the It Gets Better campaign. A worthy and heart-breaking endeavor. With apologies to Dan, I’d humbly like to offer my own encouragement to parents of babies and toddlers – an It Gets Better campaign aimed at the sleep-deprived, Goldfish-cracker infested, stroller toting crew. It would be what I wanted to hear back in those days.
I’ve been thinking of this as we just wrap up a two week vacation from school, where I’ve spent a LOT of time with my kids. It has been – dare I say it? – fun. Relaxing. Awesome. This is not to say they weren’t fun and adorable when they were little ones, it’s just they were so. much. work. I don’t think I’ve ever felt older than when I was a new parent. The stress over the minutiae of biological functioning of two tiny people. The decision when to start solid food, how to potty train, what entertainment was enriching/healthy/educational. I left the house like a sherpa, burdened with packs and gear and endless containers of cut up grapes, cheese sticks, crackers and it was beyond critical to get home in time for the Nap. And it is not hyberbolic to say that things were life or death – toddlers are bent on self-destruction at every turn. You have to watch them EVERY MINUTE as there are cars, choking hazards, poisons, steep stairs, hot woodstoves and probably hungry grizzlies around every corner. Worst of all, there’s the communication barrier. You want to yell, “What the hell is wrong with you?” during random tantrums, but they can’t even tell you. It’s like being in a foreign country all the time, where you don’t speak the language and you’re in a scavenger hunt with a list of random items like knitting needles and rocket fuel and gerbil cages and the stakes are your very soul. It’s not relaxing.
They are not without their rewards, granted. Why else are they so adorable? Babies are just a constant marvel – and your baby laughing is, bar none, the greatest sound in the world. Hearing it is like free-basing joy. And you can’t stop marveling at the concept that you MADE a person. How cool is that? But a little less Raffi music and cartoon characters would make the whole experience a little more palatable.
Compare the sick baby/toddler to a kid. My daughter, she of the sensitive tummy, would frequently climb on to the potty, feet dangling and um – have her gastro-intestinal issues. I would sit on the edge of the tub to keep her company. Invariably, at some point, she’d lean over and vomit on my feet. Not once, not twice, but so many times that “feet vomit” was a catchphrase in our house. That is not to say she never throws up anymore, but now I can make encouraging sounds from the other side of the closed bathroom door. Fevers? A wailing hot baby is a nightmare. Now, the feverish kid can tell me exactly how lousy they feel, in glorious detail, and while remedies are the same, they are infinitely improved by dispensation to watch 17 hours of “Mythbusters” in a row while the fever burns, rather than being attached to me like a polyp for that time.
Flash forward to today. I’ve heard that ages 7-12 are the honeymoon age. They still think their parents are great, they are fairly self-sufficient and they are fun. Actually, freaking hilarious. Instead of solemnly explaining the necessity of pooping in the potty, I enjoy the company of two comedians who appreciate a good fart joke. Instead of luggage to be wheeled about and fed, I have two buddies who ride their bikes next to me while I run. Instead of sitting through yet another Thomas the Tank Engine video, we are gathered around the dining room table, playing Bananagrams, and I’m pretty sure they are both cheating, and we are laughing our heads off. I feel ten years younger.
This week, we hit a new high. I cracked my eyes one morning, and they were standing next to my bed, fully dressed for skiing. I hadn’t agreed to this notion, but was willing to entertain the thought. However, they had already packed the whole car, including loading the skis and poles into the box on the roof. Lunch was made and packed – my daughter made three PB&J sandwiches and squashed them into a container meant for one, and my son had cut up the apples and loaded them into a container meant to hold a turkey, but OK. They’d fired up the hot pot and boiled water for my tea. In the face of such a mounted attack, I had no choice. I rolled into my ski clothes and we were off. We had a GREAT day.
So to new/newish parents, let me tell you: it gets better. Just when you think you couldn’t love them anymore, you’ll find you can. Think your heart will burst when they take those first tottering steps? Just wait until you see your kids helping their grandma with her suitcase. Or when you come back from a run and your son is standing on the steps with a glass of water, saying “I figured you’d be thirsty.” Or when you go to their school and see your daughter has written a sweet poem about you and it’s hanging in the hallway. Or when they have a squabble with each other but still ask for an extra goody bag at the end of a party to bring home to their sibling. Then you’re marveling all over again, not that you made a person, but that you made a GOOD person, made two good people actually, funny people, clever people, kind people. People who sleep through the night, can pour their own cereal, read a book, fold some laundry, ski a double black diamond run. People you want to spend time with for a very, very long time.
Happy New Year.