There's No Magic Here.... (A Letter to Stressed Out Parents)
Dear Stressed-Out, Anxious, Tired Parent,
I've wanted to write to you for a while now, back when this letter might have started out as “Dear Not-Yet-Completely Stressed-Out Parent,” but you’re going to have to roll with things here. I’m sorry to keep you waiting. You’re important. And I want you to know that you’re not alone. I want you to know how to make time for yourself, and more importantly that you should make time for yourself. But I haven’t...
I haven’t had the time because last Tuesday, my 18 month old discovered underpants. Six pairs of underpants. At one time. I was busy enjoying this when I might have otherwise been writing this letter. Then I had to photograph her wearing six pairs of underpants (at once) while trying to walk so that I’d remember it forever. On my iphone, because those never die, and I totally remember to upload them to my computer, download them to a backup drive, and upload them to the cloud in my free time between 1am and 3am every second Tuesday. (I did that once. At least half way.)
I only did it half way because my 4 year old woke up at 1:34 to tell me that she had a dream that her sister was giving her “SO MANY HUGS” and then proceeded to say, “it made my heart happy, Momma,” and so what could I do, but sit on the cold stairs with her cuddled close to me, and ask her to tell me again.
She told me again, and then she told me about how she wants “soo so badly” to go on a train ride. I’ve been meaning to look into that, but I haven’t because last Wednesday when my girls were running around the yard with dirt everywhere carrying sticks twice their size, I was busy watching them. I had to watch them, you see, because just a moment or two before, there was only one of them, and she was just learning to walk, and then two, and the second was just learning… and now they were running! With sticks. And not speaking softly either.
And I would have told them to be quiet, but instead I just joined in, which seemed to go over rather well. And so we spent the next few hours before bedtime, cavorting around the yard, hooting and hollering. When I got tired, I sat down and watched them. They could have gone all night, which is probably what they attempted to do that night, because after a day like that, I’m guessing bedtime didn’t go smoothly. I can’t quite recall the night - but I remember the day.
I didn’t write to you on Thursday because my 4 year old had something really important to tell me, and while I was listening to her my 18m old fell and hit her head and began to cry. My 4 year old ran to her and comforted her and the two sat, a tight embrace of sisterhood, and I was drawn to it. I could have written you then, while they sat together, but I yet… I couldn’t. I just watched.
On Friday I meant to write to tell you how taking time for yourself is critical, refreshing, and strengthening. I wanted to tell you that parenting during the toddler years doesn’t have to be all about stressful bedtimes, temper tantrums, and clingy-teething kids. But I didn’t write because I took a long shower while my girls played on the floor outside, their little hands banging against the glass, their faces pressed up against, yelling “momma! momma!” against the roar of the water. I stayed longer than I should have because they wanted me to throw water against the door again and again, so they could shrill in fake horror and dance away. I stayed because they asked me over and over to write letters and words and numbers on the damp fogged glass.
I meant to tell you how to make time, but I didn’t, because after my shower, they unpacked the entire laundry basket and threw it all up in the air and danced around in the dirty clothes and thought themselves princesses of the world (bedecked in dresses of boxer briefs) and I just sat on my bed and read through a bunch of facebook updates and some emails and ignored them while they played. It was probably a rough night that night too, and I was probably upset at how slowly they cleaned the room. I don’t remember the details. But I remember the castle of dirty laundry and how proud they were to call it theirs.
The weekend was a blur, there’s no way I was going to write then -
On Saturday we had visitors. We braved the zoo on a free day - two moms and four kids - which meant walking approximately 16.7 miles from the extended-extended parking to the entrance, and then trying to see over the crowds. I forgot to ask my friend all the questions I'd been wanting to ask, but we did bond over carseat installations and free coffee, and that seemed like a pretty good deal. We watched our kids play together and laugh and solve problems and fix things and climb things and run in circles, and without either of us saying it, we knew that next time, we could just pull up to a big open field and do nothing and it would be more than enough.
On Sunday my 18 month old decided to practice her new words out loud at the farm market. There are few things that can match the top volume of a toddler. Thankfully our farm market comes close, because “vulva” does not sound like “volvo” no matter how many times you try to insist that’s what she said.
We bribed her by waving her carrier around and she predictably asked for “up,” and we wore her as we walked to church. Napless from the market fun, she opted to cuddle with me instead of running off to Children’s Church. I could perhaps have written you then, since I missed 9/10ths of the service anyway, but I was watching her stand at the second story windows, saying “hi” to every. moving. thing. I took a moment to thank God for babywearing, where children are strapped in a confined and calm place where they cannot attract attention to their awesome anatomy; and for the free coffee and bagels in the lobby, which made hanging out there like a mini retreat.
I don't know where the next few days went.
I’m sure somewhere in there water was spilled, someone peed on something or someone, and someone else didn’t like something and yelled and kicked and complained. But what I remember is how pleased my cautious 4 year old was that she made a new friend, and the thunder that scared her newly confident self back into my arms that night. I would have written you then, because the thunder stopped quickly and I remember I had the night free early - but I stayed there beside her, hoping there might be more thunder, so that she might need me again, and it might keep her little for just a bit longer.
I would have written you earlier this week, but there were pictures to be scribbled and messes to make and bath water that needed splashing. There were screaming matches just for fun because I thought otherwise there might be not so fun ones. There were bugs found and strangers talked with and light switches turned on and off too many times. There was the day that disappeared because we spent it all on running three simple errands, not because they had to take that long but because we just let them. For all the demands of parenting, the right to dillydally is a given. Use it.
I could have hurried through and written you. But we were taking our time.
I’d tell you more now, about how to enjoy it - but I need another cup of tea, and I’m going to grab my sleeping 18 month old - or is it 19 months now? - and sit with her on the couch a while and just be.
But just know. You’ve got this. This parenting thing is for you. It really is. It will make you a better human, if you let it. And it will stress you out if you fight it. Don't fight it. Embrace the messy, the awkward, the silly, the insane, the late nights, the undone to-do lists - and embrace your little ones. Say yes to the free coffee, and reconsider the free zoo days. Redefine the "musts". Redefine working. Redefine your perfection. And embrace that. It’s totally worth it. You’ll see.
There’s no magic here. Just crazy love, one everyday normal step at a time.