Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mothers, You are Climbing a Mountain

When I was pregnant, someone told me that a pregnant woman burns just as many calories per day as a mountain climber actively climbing a mountain. Whether or not this is scientifically proven doesn't matter to me. What matters is: growing a person is hard work. It's not just a blissful time of kicking back.  For most women I know, and especially those with other children, pregnancy is hard work! The pregnant body grows, swells, retains water, feels foreign and uncomfortable, keeps you awake at night, and makes you feel like you can barely hold your eyes open during the day. Pregnancy is like climbing a mountain.

Those who have outgrown their rearing years frequently tell me that this is the best, most amazing time of my life: pregnant and with young children. How is this the best time of our lives? Why do people say, "you think it's busy now, you just wait!" or "you think you have problems now, just wait til your kids get older. Small people, small problems, big people, big problems." "Enjoy every moment, because it goes so fast." And then what? Then life sucks? Then it's not fun anymore? I'm often left wondering why this is the resounding theme from the older generation to the younger one.

Telling the parents of young kids that "it goes so fast" does nothing for them in the moment. It provides absolutely no support to their constant struggle of whether or not to take a baby with a cold to the doctor, or the parent struggling to get their child to sleep at night, or the parent whose child has abnormally prolonged, exaggerated tantrums. Sure the problems of older children might be more aggravating, more complex, and more anxiety-producing. That doesn't mean you tell those mountain climbers who are below you to "just wait, it only gets harder." What you can say to those who are coming behind you is "You are in it. You are doing it. Keep going. We are blazing a trail ahead of you."

People would never dream of telling a professional mountain climber to "enjoy every minute because this is the best time of their life." What does that insinuate? The underlying message to a healthy, physically fit mountain climber is, "just wait, you're going to break a bone and never be able to do this again." The subliminal message is, "You don't fully realize what a great time you're having, even though you think this is hard work." No person in their right mind would look at a mountain climber mid-climb and beam at them and say "enjoy every moment." A person in the throes of climbing a mountain probably needs to hear: "You are kicking ass!" "Keep up the good work!" "I know this is hard, and you're pulling it off. Keep breathing, keep pushing, there's a plateau ahead." The person mid-climb needs encouragement, not to be told that they aren't present enough to their circumstances. They don't need to hear a nostalgic statement of "it goes so fast" they need a water break, a quick re-fuel, and encouragement to make it to the next look-out point where they can take a breath, massage their weary muscles, and continue on.

My husband and I sometimes joke that parenting young children can be equated to Stockholm syndrome: though we feel held captive by our squabbling children, we still marvel at them asleep at night. Moments after my 19-month-old hits my face because I've taken away a sharp object she found in the dishwasher, I will giggle as she waddles through the kitchen. Though my 4-year-old may fight me all the way to the bathroom, I can't help but laugh when she gives me moment-by-moment updates on how many poops she has coming and when they'll arrive. My affection runs deep for these little people who can drive me absolutely crazy.

I have had a couple glimpses of this going "so fast." Glimpses. As Sean(6) and Audrey(4) just turned their most recent age and have become more independent, I can see how the physical work of parenting becomes somewhat easier when we aren't responsible for literally putting food into their mouths and literally washing every part of their body. I see how their ability to do things on their own frees us from parenting duties and allows them the freedom to go out into the world to experience new things.  I recently teared up seeing Sean stand on the risers at his Kindergarten spring concert and sing his heart out. I was taken aback at my own emotional reaction, and I realized that he is beginning that journey of being a student and a bigger kid.  A journey that will eventually take him - God willing - away from living at home, and he will create a life all his own. I saw both the heartbreak and joy in it, and my eyes filled with tears.

So to the mountain climbers who are mid-climb: I know this is hard, aggravating work with not much recognition or thanks from those we care for. Keep going. Keep breathing deep. Keep digging for patience amidst poopy diapers and underwear, fighting siblings, refusals to eat, and sick kids awake all night. Keep rejoicing in the small victories, and find solace in those who journey with you. For those of you ahead in the climb: thank you for making our pathway clearer by sharing your wisdom. Thank you for making our pack lighter by ensuring we have a safer path to walk. However, please don't tell us that this will "go so fast." I much prefer a, "You're kicking ass! Keep up the good work!" and try to remember that honoring the hard work we are doing now honors the hard work you have done before us.