Sometimes it takes a blow to the gut to remember what’s important about parenthood.
“No, Mom! Go ‘way!”
Her words cut me. I was sure she didn’t mean them; she is 2-years-old and her concept of departure is limited at best, but it didn’t take the sting out of it, and it didn’t soften the blow.
In an instant I saw her face, still full of baby fat, thin out. I saw her made-up eyes narrow. I saw her hips widen, her legs lengthen, and her breasts form. In an instant, I saw my baby girl grow into a petulant teenager, full of angst and hormones and end-of-the-world emotions. In an instant, I saw my little girl grow into a young woman.
I heard those words come through a deeper voice, a voice of confident and cocky adolescent immaturity, and I saw years of shut doors, unanswered phone calls, and strained silence unfold before my very eyes.
And I froze.
My daughter returned to playing with plastic fruits and vegetables on her woodland-inspired floor, but I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t think of a comeback. I couldn’t move.
As a writer, I talk a lot about the trials and tribulations of motherhood and the toddler years. I talk about the lost nights of sleep, the “I don’t want to sit in my stroller” tantrums, and the “No milk! Juice!” meltdowns, but that is because it is tough to be a parent. It is tough to feel yourself breaking—to see your temperament being torn down—by a tyke half your size. It is tough to go day after day on too little sleep and far too much coffee. And it is easy to complain because we all want compassion. We all seek camaraderie and support. We all want to know we aren’t alone, and most importantly, we all want to know we aren’t losing our freakin’ minds.
But that doesn’t mean I hate it all. That doesn’t mean I hate being a mother or—worse—hate her.
I love her. And while I get frustrated, like any human being, it is because I love her that I get angry. It is because I want the best for her that my blood pressure rises and I find myself gnawing a hole through my cheek.
Are there things I still want to wish away? Absolutely! (Like can we skip right over toilet training, and maybe bypass this whole threenager stage I keep hearing so much about?) But there are things I love about this age, things I want to hold onto for as long as I can. And there are things I will miss, things I already do miss.
I miss her “new baby” smell. Do you remember that? Sniffing the small, soft spot on the top of their head or back of their neck to take it all in? To drink them in? I do. I still try to hold her, but she squirms away. The world has her attention now and not me. Plus, when I do manage to catch a whiff, it is usually a different odor: one of sweat and Play-Doh…and maybe a touch of shit.
I miss the way she fit in the crook of my hip or the way she felt strapped to my chest—her eyes locked on mine and her smile for me, and me alone.
I miss the baby who fell asleep on my breast. I miss the little girl who enjoyed snuggling in Mommy and Daddy’s bed. We didn’t have to do anything. We would just tickle her, talk to her, and lie beside her and everything was good. Everything was perfect.
But nostalgia isn’t going to make me remorseful. I’m not going to start spouting “savor every moment” jargon to every mom-to-be I meet because “it goes by so fast.” There are some days that don’t. There are days that feel like an eternity—days when naps are fought, food is thrown, teeth are sprouting, and moods are simply out-of-whack. There are days when the whole family is sick and nerves are shot, and there are days that just suck. Just plain suck.
But here’s the thing: We need to leave room to allow all parents to say that. We need to allow parents the chance to share both the good and the bad experiences—to speak openly, honestly, and without judgment. We need to give parents the chance to vent without telling them how beautiful it all is or how #blessed they are. We need to allow parents to think, to be, and to parent differently without waging some great parent war.
We need to give our ears and our support to each other; in the end, each other is all we have. Because when the day is done, aren’t we all on the same side? Don’t we all just want the best for our children?
Copyright 2016, Kimberly Zapata, as first published on Sammiches and Psych Meds.