My kids are young - two and almost four. In the grand scheme of parenting, my toe is just barely in the water… which seems weird since my non-parental days are just a hallucination in a dessert of sleepless nights. (Because despite what the books say, not all kids will eventually sleep through the night. Sure, they may not go to college in diapers, but I am fully convinced that some will go to college still waking up 2-3 times each night, which will prepare them amply for that atmosphere anyway.)
Each year as my eldest miraculously makes it to another birthday, I try to reflect upon the absolute chaos that I never could have envisioned.
Here are some things I never knew, year four:
1. Kids are adeptly skilled at coughing into your mouth whenever you manage to have it open for more than two seconds. These little carrier monkeys would be the military's best weapons if they truly wanted to spread any sort of plague.
2. Along the lines of illness, I had no idea how many truly disgusting viruses and bacteria exist solely for the 0-6 set. Hand foot and mouth disease with its oozing blisters infecting every local ball pit? Nasty. Roseola's creepy rash that often shows up completely separate from the fever that you never figured out in the first place? Come on.
And let's not forget pink eye. Okay, that's for kids over six, too. I know that because every since my kids started into day care, our household has been a den of oozy eyeballs (and hands, and feet…)
3. I never realized how quickly the worries about molding your child's personality would kick in. When my daughter was younger, she was always a "leader" (read: bossy). I was seriously concerned at various points that she'd never have friends if she continued on that path. Now, we're at the opposite extreme at school, where she often caters to another student who is often unkind to the other kids. Now I wish I had that leader back!
4. Kids have a radar for profanity, and love to repeat it back. Not too long ago, I was running late for a meeting. I was rushing to get the kids to school and was admittedly not at my parenting best. My daughter notices about five minutes from school (and fifteen from the house) that she doesn't have her "lovey." Meltdowns ensue. First, appropriately, from my three-year-old. Then, I piece together a string of profanity that has certainly never been uttered together before, at least not at the decibel or octave at which I screeched it.
Several days later, we were having trouble finding her lovey before bedtime. Walking up to one of my friends, my daughter said, completely deadpan, "Can you please just help me find my god**** lovey?"
5. I wish I'd known how much simpler life was before the kids could fully reason. Timeouts worked magically with my daughter when she was younger. She was amazing - I never had to put on a timer or try to keep her in her "spot." She would take a break and come back when she had calmed down. Now that she can reason - and argue - there is. no. end. to the argument. "Why" has been replaced with "Yeah, but" and I have future visions of the kids' teenage selves scaring the heck out of me.
6. No matter how much time I devote to cleaning - my house, myself or my kids, things will always be sticky. There will be that one patch of the floor that you walk over and your sock sticks (okay, more than one). On the rare occasions I make it out of my house for real grown-up time, I will discover peanut butter in my hair, behind my ear, or magically on my back. And no matter how many times I wipe Greek yogurt off of the kids faces, it will reappear during the car ride to school.
7. Babysitters are impossible to find. Sure, we have access to websites promoting access to childcare providers, but in an era when high school students' schedules are packed with extracurriculars, that awesome sixteen year old up the street is rarely an option these days. And the ones on the websites, from my experience, are more likely to show your kids pictures of tattoos on their rears than focus on little things like... meals. (I guess I should be happy it was just the picture?)
8. …And babysitters can retire at 30. You have to take out a second mortgage just to be able to leave the house. For all of you who have family members who babysit regularly: Go kiss those people on the mouth. Immediately. I don't care if they don't follow your routine or let your kids juggle knives on a regular basis. You have hit the jackpot. Enjoy the quirks.
9. Kids are disgusting. And it isn't just boys. Why my daughter feels the need to stick her hand inside her butt crack, why my son always has an entire day of boogies dried across his face and why, when they're in a public restroom, they both must touch every single surface, most often with their tongue, is beyond me.
10. Every time you think you've got the hang of it, you can expect a change. As soon as I think I can wrestle these two in a manageable fashion, they reach a new milestone. It's exhilarating. It's incredible to watch. And it's exhausting.
Would I trade it? Most days, no. Now I have to go get the peanut butter out of my ear.
What things weren't you expecting as a parent?
Tracy Jensen, aka ChiMomWriter, is a writer, marketer, mother, fundraiser, marathoner, wine drinker and music lover. She survives suburban exile by blogging about anything that pops into her mind at It Builds Character and about empowering women at Just Be Enough. She can also be found at night ignoring the dishes and playing on Twitter. Stop by and say hello.
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