Here is the biggest parenting lesson I’ve learned in the last 2 years, 8 months, and 19 days since the turtles were born.
Nothing progresses in a straight line. There is no linear path. There is no “easier” or “harder.” There is just different. There is just good and bad and in between. You’d think that after 35 years I’d learn to be a little better at not being such a black-or-white thinker, sheesh.
I remember thinking that infants come home from the hospital and woke up every 2-3 hours to eat and then their tiny stomachs grew, and as they grew their ability to sleep for more hours increased, until soon you would get 4 & 5 hour stretches, then 6 & 7, then sleeping through the whole night. Just like that. Straight line. Simple.
When the turtles were 4 months old we took them on their first family vacation to the beach. Twice that week they slept for 9 or 10 hours straight at night–the most they’d ever done. “This is it!” I thought, gleefully. “They are going to start sleeping through the night now!”
We came home and they went back to getting up every 3 hours. They didn’t start sleeping through the night for another 4 months, at 8 months old. And now I recognize that even THAT is pretty good.
A few weeks before their first birthday, they had a terrible night where they were up screaming for hours. Since we were never hazed with this particular hell during their newborn phase, I was flabbergasted. I remember posting a FB status about how we had never had such a bad night in their entire 11-month lives. A wise friend, who was 3.5 years further along into this parenting gig than we were, responded: “Sleep comes and goes.”
It was such a simple and easy statement. And so radically different from the way I had been thinking about it. I mean, yes, overall, the turtles sleep through the night, now. But sleep does come and go. Not the way it did when they were newly born, but we still have the occasional off night. (See the last post, for example.)
My straight line from “hard-nights-with-multiple-feedings to sleeping-through- the-night-with-no-interruption” thinking carried over from babies to toddlers. “Babies are so much work!” Everyone tells you. “You won’t even be able to shower or feed yourself!” You are warned. It is called newborn HELL, people. It has to get easier right?
And here is where I admit that I really thought that the hardest part of having twins (I think part of this is definitely specific to twins, since had we a singleton, we would have known we were adding a second and assumed from the beginning that obviously two is harder than 1)…anyways, the point is, I thought with twins, it was going to be so hard in the beginning, and then it would just get easier and easier and easier the older they got.
That was incredibly stupid of me. 2 8-month old babies are a hell of a lot less work than 2 18-month old toddlers. At least, my particular 8-month old babies were a hell of a lot easier than they were a year later. Those parents we saw in the Big Baby Store when we brought the 8-week old turtles there to buy a carseat? The ones who told us their twins were turning two the next day and when asked if it got easier, wryly smiled and replied: “It gets…different.”
They were so fucking right. Oh my goodness. Boy, do I get what they meant now. It gets different. Each age brings new joys and new challenges. But it is always exhausting. It is always hard. It is always taking up the biggest part of my mind, body, and spirit.
Tiny has started to potty train. I thought, months ago, we would use the “boot camp” method of training him. Wait for him to show signs of readiness, buy all the supplies, wake up one morning, put him in underwear, camp out at home for 3 days, no going back. Bam. Potty trained in a weekend.
Stupid. Stupid stupid stupid. Dumb. Naive.
Instead, we follow Tiny’s lead. He asked to wear his Thomas underwear about 2.5 weeks ago. Some days he wears underwear, some days pull-ups, some days diapers. Every day he pees in the potty multiple times a day. Some days he has accidents, some days he doesn’t. He’s only pooped in the potty twice. He wears diapers for nap and overnight. It may be MONTHS before he is, in the most complete sense of the word, fully potty trained.
(And I don’t think the Lion will train until next summer…)
Getting the Lion speech and other therapies has opened my eyes to a whole new world of difficulty–finding the right learning environments for his needs, the right pre-school, the right elementary school. How much support will he need? How will he do?
Even after my babies grew into toddlerhood and, even though I LOVE toddlerhood, it is mothereffing HARD and EXHAUSTING, I still thought, “Well, okay. Toddlerhood is so hard. But when they get to be school-aged! Man. That is when it will really get easier.”
They’ll be at school all day. They will be able to shower and dress themselves and wipe their own butts! They will be able to come downstairs for cereal and let me sleep past 7 am. It will be glorious and sunshine and rainbows and unicorns will rain down from the heavens, and being a working mom will be a piece of cake, and not the long hard, knife-juggling slog it currently is.
Okay, universe. I get it now. I’m ready to stop being so dumb. So naive. It won’t get easier. It will just get different. Physically, sure, it will be less demanding. It will feel like an amazing luxury to send them into the back yard to play without my supervision while I make dinner. It will be awesome not to have to bathe them and supervise their every visit to the toilet. But it won’t be easy. It won’t be simple. It won’t be not tiring.
It will just be different challenges and different demands on my time. Helping with homework. Driving to lessons or sports or activities or unending birthday parties. Helping them navigate their social world with peers. Knowing when to push and when not to. Answering hard questions. Teaching them about the world. It will be glorious and hard and amazing and impossible. But it won’t be easy.
Last summer when the whole country was buzzing about working moms, and “leaning in”, and the Atlantic monthly piece about how you can’t have it all was going around? I couldn’t understand why the author needed to quit her high-powered DC job to be home more for her kids. They were already teenagers. Teenagers don’t need you to be home all the time. Don’t teenagers spend most of their time trying to escape you, anyways?
Well. Lesson learned. Even in 13 years, when I’ve got two moody, hormonal, teenage turtles (hopefully not mutant or ninja ones), it will still be different. And hard. And exhausting. It will still be an enormous juggling act, and it will still be the hardest work you I imagine, being their mom.
I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But I’m finally ready to give up the “it will get easier, right?” thing. That was just dumb. From now on, I’ll just repeat to myself–it gets different.