Somehow, and I’m not quite sure how, I ended up a married woman with two school-aged children.
One minute, I was drinking my face off in university, even before the days when I realized I might need some way to support myself if I ever wanted to move out of my parents’ house. Fast forward to newlywed time when I thought it would be nice to have a baby to snuggle. Somehow, I (we) produced not one, but two, and fed and nurtured them through the Parasite and Merely Dependent stages. Now all of a sudden I am done with babies and we somehow made it to the Early Independent stage. We are the parents of two People who are individuals with preferences and opinions; People who no longer depend on me for the most base necessities of life (a productive nipple and nice firm sleeping surface).
We have moved from the basic necessities, up the hierarchy of needs to some slightly more complex ones. Now they can feed themselves, if the food is available; that is, they can shove it into their faces. No, now, I’m thinking of things like role-modelling and boundaries and safety. Somewhere, diapers (cloth or disposable?) and bumper pads (death trap or cute nursery design?) turned into “don’t talk to strangers” and “eat your vegetables”. In between was the please-and-thank-you and be-nice-to-your-friends stages, but my memory of those months seems to have gone the way of the Pampers. Gripe water has been replaced by bandaids as absolute essentials.
I think I first realized I was a Parent the day I licked my finger to clean off a spot on Aimee’s face. I remember my mother doing that to me and how much I hated it. I swore I would never… but there I was, instinctively, grooming my child. Probably even earlier than that, I remember one incident where I was in the middle of doing something and my newborn daughter started to make hungry noises. I wanted to finish, but by the time I had (two minutes, tops), she was practically inconsolable. I vividly remember the epiphany that day, when it dawned on me that I really don’t come first anymore. I am on hold until my kids are sorted out (slight exaggeration, for heaven’s sake I managed to get a degree in there somewhere, but still, you know what I mean. I am choicelessly depended upon).
And now, we are at a stage of life where they can, independently, propel their lean little bodies down the street on the two-wheelers that they chose, (no more fat little baby legs), and fix themselves cereal and choose an outfit for the day (usually one, in Jack’s case at least, that confirms in living colour, his heterosexuality). Somehow, the responsibilities of the parents of a school-ager seem so much more ominous than those of an infant. When you are a new parent, every decision is fraught with risk (will I harm his chances of going to Harvard if I have this one drink?), but the stakes seem even higher now, and the consequences more serious (if I let him play with that kid, will he end up stealing cars and doing drugs? Will she end up being a snotty little brat like that one? Will they get beat up at school if they don’t have Nikes? Am I capable of teaching them how to stand up to bullies/peer pressure/poor choices?). And I can see they are only getting steeper (if I lend him the car tonight, will some drunk asshole run a red and make him an organ donor?)
After Jack’s independent little adventure last weekend, I can see that the day is coming where it may not be so easy to rest assured that they are safe at any given moment. Maybe it’s a good thing that the decisions we make as new parents are, in the grand scheme of things, so basic. It’s a way for parents to break in slowly, let them get used to their role before thrusting upon them more weighty decisions. That way, there is plenty of training for the “how do I tell him my grandson is a spoiled brat?”-type questions.
My main hope for my kids is that they end up being productive, likable members of society. I want them to have the skills to make good choices. And failing that, I want them at least to be clean. Thankfully, they are now capable, if not willing, to groom themselves. I shouldn’t need to wipe their faces in public.
I think I will use this post as a sort of time capsule, so that in a few years, when “wear your bike helmet” has turned into “use a condom”, and the intervening years have disappeared into the ether, just like their infancies, I will have a record of my inner Parenting Turmoil. It will never go away, I am learning that now. I suspect it will evolve as the challenges and the stages evolve. I would like to think, though, that I will be able to avoid performing whatever the equivalent to wet-finger face-washing is for a given age or stage. We’ll see. If I have figured out one thing, it’s that I can make no promises. Or predictions.