If you or any of your friends are new parents, perennially poo-covered, sleep-deprived and spit-upon, please remember this one thing: it gets easier.
This thought pops into my head any time I hang out with friends and family members who have very young children and I see the thinly veiled panic that is behind their eyes 24 hours a day. I recognize that look as one that stared back at me in the mirror for several years.
Recently I had dinner with new parents that I’d never met before and I quickly got the feeling that they didn’t have a lot of contact with babies before they had their own.
They had that look about them, that look that said there’s a tiny human being that we brought into this world and she is solely dependent on us to provide everything for her every minute of every day. That look that said if we don’t provide for this being, she will quickly die or someone will take her away from us and give her to someone else who will care for her but probably won’t love her quite as much as we do. That look that said I smell a bit like pee.
I got chatting with this couple and told them a bit about what life will be like for them five years from now. They listened in amazement.
One day, I said, your child will be able to get up out of bed, get themselves all the way to the kitchen, make themselves breakfast and eat it, all without waking you up or choking on a grape or throwing a full bowl of oatmeal into the ceiling fan. For new parents this idea of a child completely feeding itself seems absurd, like a dog coming on a flight for the family vacation and also landing the plane.
One day, I said, you will be able to apply sunscreen to your child without the use of jiu-jitsu or a Taser. One day, and this one absolutely blew their minds, your child will be able to get herself into a car and buckled up completely on her own. Like, safely buckled and everything, crash into whatever you want and that kid that buckled herself in almost certainly will not go flying through the windshield.
This may not sound like much to anyone who is far removed from the joys of new parenthood, but for people who are being sucked under by the new baby undertow, these concepts are unfathomable. My neighbours have a kid that’s a bit older than mine, and the first time I saw him put himself into the car all by himself, and then watch the car drive away without anyone checking the buckle or adjusting the seat or making sure his favourite rattle was within his reach or whatever, I wondered for a second if I needed to call the police. What is going on?! They aren’t even listening to Baby Shark!
And now, my kids are the same as their trailblazing neighbour. They just hop in, buckle themselves up and off we go, not a care in the world as we travel down our street and immediately get caught in a North Shore traffic jam. Ah, the good life.
The thing I’ve learned about parenting is it’s very in-the-moment. When you are in a certain stage, you can’t imagine a time when it will be any different. And yet, once that time has passed and you move on to a new phase, you can barely remember what life was like in those previous newborn days, or those toddler days, or those preschool days.
I know this is true for me because I have a record. In those very early days of parenthood I did what all truly desperate people do when they go on parental leave: I started a blog. There I documented all kinds of wild and crazy shenanigans I got up to with my young child. Rereading some of the entries in it, I was struck by how raw and rough (and also fun) life was back then, but also by how many of those little details I’d long since forgotten.
There was the “double duty,” a poop your baby takes seconds after you’ve just changed a poopy diaper. There are the hats and toques and sunglasses that you insist your baby wears and that your baby then throws on the ground every 1.2 seconds. There is that terrifying game that every new parent plays every single day called “is my baby breathing.”
When I first wrote about “is my baby breathing,” I guessed that it was a feeling that would never go away. I was wrong.
I don’t play that game anymore. I sometimes wish my kids would stop talking for a few breaths, but I never worry they’ll just stop breathing.
Life got easier. Not easy. Easier.
Maybe I’ll finally find time to install that new ceiling fan.