Parenthood, So far: Thoughts on the First Two Years

The old cliché really is true: the days are long, but the years are short. Here we are, approaching Graham’s second birthday, even though it seems like just yesterday we were celebrating his first birthday and waiting with bated breath to see when he’d take his first steps. Now he’s a running, climbing, jumping, chatterbox, jokester toddler who surprises us with something new each day. Naturally, I’ve been doing a lot of sappy reflecting, grasping all that I’ve learned in this whirlwind new role. Here are just a few thoughts/pointers regarding the millions of things I’ve learned.

Parenthood, So Far: Thoughts on the First Two Years

Motherhood doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and that’s okay.
I loved my son with every ounce of my being the moment I laid eyes on him, but for a long while I had no clue what I was doing. The books I read and preparations I made taught me nothing about how to truly handle the emotions and changes-every-second craziness of parenting an infant, well through the entire first twelve months. (If I’m being honest, it didn’t really feel like it “clicked” until he was 16 months.) The first year of his life was truly about survival for me; I felt much more like a rattled student in some absurd, completely overwhelming Parenting Academy where you are tested on your capacity to catch spit-up mid-air without getting any on your clothes, and your ability to rush to the changing pad just before the blowout becomes a real problem. I attended a weekly mom’s group that my lactation consultant started for moms of newborns, and for so many months, I felt like I just observed what the other moms did and took their lead without truly feeling like I knew what I was doing; I was waiting for it all to feel like second nature, but it took a very long time for that to happen. I felt like an impostor amidst other moms who took to their new role like pros from the start. Looking back, I recognize that year one was just a complete whirlwind of emotions and newness, every single day, but year two has been when I truly felt like I became a mother. A wipe-my-spit-on-your-face-to-clean-it-off, know-you’re-about-to-scale-the-furniture-even-before-you-do-it, can-get-you-dressed-without-you-even-noticing-because-I-rock-at-distracting-you mother.

You begin to really appreciate all the tough decisions your parents made on your behalf, and realize how scary it is to make decisions for your own tiny human being.
I can now fully appreciate how bad-ass it was of my mom to pull me out of my first dance recital, at age three, because she didn’t want me being objectified while shaking my butt on stage in an Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini. Other parents probably thought it was a cute and harmless routine, but my mom, she of the female art school education during the Gloria Steinem era, knew that it was setting me up for a future of valuing my own self-worth based on my appearance, and she took a stand. It was a statement I didn’t understand at that young age, and I probably didn’t even realize it was happening, but that decision she made for me is something that stays with me still today. There are a lot of tough choices that go into parenting, and I hope Nick and I will do Graham proud when he someday looks back at the decisions we made for him.

Never plan anything important during naptime.
The day you plan that important conference call during naptime “because he always sleeps at least 2 hours” is the day your child will revolt against naptime, complete with ear piercing, heartbreaking screams and flailing arms smacking the crib. Kids have an uncanny ability to know exactly when you’re realllllly counting on them to behave a certain way, and that is the moment they will ensure that it all goes to hell. In other words: naptime is never, ever a given. Anything you are able to accomplish during that peaceful time is simply a bonus, but the moment something depends on it happening, it won’t.

You will buy crap you said you’d never buy, including experiences that your kid will not remember.
I never understood why parents pay for things like DisneyWorld or, on a much smaller scale, Day Out With Thomas, for small kids who will have no recollection of that experience as they grow up. Now I totally get it (and I have the Day Out With Thomas tickets to prove it). Yes, it’s all part of the larger mastermind created by Very Intelligent Business People who exploit the emotional pull that parents feel to make their kids happy. But damn if seeing that huge grin that appears the first time your kid lays eyes on Mickey/Thomas/whoever live and in person (er, in engine?) doesn’t make it all worth it. Embrace the crap and the experiences, and just enjoy those grins and gazes of wonder.

One day your kid WILL stop hating the car seat.
I promise — it really will happen. One day, magically, out of nowhere, your child will actually giggle and be pleasant for an entire car ride, and it will drastically improve your life.

Date nights happen very rarely.
…And when they do happen, they usually entail talking about your child (who is asleep at home while you are paying someone to watch your tv), and getting home no later than 10pm. Your human alarm clock will wake you up when the sun rises the next day, anyway, so staying out late is much less tempting than it used to be. Soak up those date nights when you can, or create mini date nights at home when you can’t fathom paying a sitter.

You’ll get a lot more sleep in the second year… but may be just as (if not more) tired.
The energy level of toddlers is NO JOKE. Graham typically sleeps 11 straight hours at night and another 2-3 hours at naptime, and it’s no wonder — when he’s awake, he never. stops. moving. Ever. No, really: ever. While we put him to bed at 7pm, have a few hours to ourselves to do work, catch up on housework, or maybe watch tv before we go to sleep ourselves, we’re still completely pooped at the end of the day after running with/after him for hours on end. It’s a different kind of exhaustion from the sleepless newborn days, and it does feel more gratifying because you’re getting a lot more laughter, kisses, and snuggles in return, but it is still pure exhaustion.

Parents’ intuition is real.
When Graham was 9 days old, he was not acting like himself. I felt like something wasn’t right, so we took his temperature, found that it was just a little high, and called the pediatrician on call (it was a Sunday, of course). I remember telling the doctor over the phone that I felt like he was disoriented and out of sorts; he was looking through me instead of at me, like he usually did. Looking back, I kind of marvel at the fact that I could read so much from a tiny human I’d only known for 9 days, but my gut knew that something wasn’t right. We took him to the ER and it turned out he was indeed a sick little guy. He ended up being admitted for three days until his fever dropped and they could determine whether it was a viral (good) or bacterial (bad) infection. That is standard protocol for any baby that young, but it was still such a scary experience for us not knowing what was wrong with him. I’m so glad we trusted our instincts, and it was a good lesson to learn early on to always listen to your gut.

What’s been the most surprising thing you’ve learned as a parent?

comments

  1. Great post… Happy two!!! I love your mom putting the kibosh on the risque recital. Right on!

  2. It’s hard to find honest opinions on motherhood/parenting and its challenges without everything about it being sugarcoated these days, so thank you for your honesty and insight! As a new mom, I really needed to hear that:)

    • Hang in there, Ksenia! I just said to my husband this morning that this age (23 months) is definitely my favorite so far, because Graham is just so FUN… it definitely puts all of those tough newborn days in perspective, and it actually feels like a fun adventure now, versus feeling like you’re just surviving each day.

  3. Oh man. That is to say, AMEN on all of the above. This month, with the approach of my own little dude’s birthday, has been all manner of crazy, and your post flipped the switch on the realization that we’ve been doing this parenting thing for two whole years. Amazing. Keep on being a great mama, and may you and Graham have a wonderful year ahead!

  4. Kudos to your mom! I volunteered to run the music for a recital once, and I was HORRIFIED at the objectification of even tiny tots…and even more heartbroken at the ones who already knew how to “work it” at five. My Kate is only three months, but amen on the intuition! In the hospital, I kept telling the lactation consultants that something was wrong, and being told that I “just need to get used to nursing.” Well, fast forward 10 weeks, with nursing issues the whole time, and it turns out that she had both a lip and tongue tie! Parents know. And kudos to you for saying “parents” instead of “moms.” If there’s one thing that’s like nails on a chalkboard to me, it’s the constant daddy-bashing. News flash, society: dads can be good parents too!!

    • I’m so glad you found out what was wrong, but I’m sorry for the grief you went through to be heard! And it’s funny, my choice to use the word “parents” instead of “moms” was not a conscious decision, but just instinct: this parenting thing is definitely a partnership, and I couldn’t do it without my husband. I hate the daddy-bashing trend! Instead we should be lifting up all the amazing dads out there, and giving boys and men something to strive for when they become dads.

  5. My baby is almost 5 months. I look at crazy active 1 and 2 year olds and get scared and wonder how I’m going to keep up. Thanks for this post letting me know that there is a fun side to it!

    • I used to feel the same way when I saw active toddlers… but when you have no other choice, you just dive in and let them wear you out! :) Really, though, there are so many more fun (and fewer stressful) moments throughout our day-to-day now that it’s just an overall enjoyable exhaustion — if ever there were such a thing!

  6. Well you had me fooled the entire first 16 months, cause I thought you were a very natural mom! I know I’ll be asking you for a lot of advice soon.

  7. My daughter just turned two and I can wholeheartedly agree with all of this! Maybe not so much with the more sleep in the second year because we are STILL having issues but it has gotten at least a little better.

    I felt like I was just doing the mom job and it didn’t really click and feel comfortable to me until we got close to a year. The first 6 months seemed like I watched myself doing things and just trying to stay the course.

    Realizing everything that my parents, my mom specifically, had to do and decisions that she had to make all while being poised and strong has been a huge one for me also. I’ve said to her many many times “How did you leave me for a few days and not freak out?!” Parents have to make tough decisions but the part that has to be even harder is keeping up a strong front so the child feels safe too. Even when you are freaking out inside because they are doing something new and challenging for the first time.

    Happy Birthday Graham!

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