The coffee cup that you knocked off the counter in a sleepless haze, scattering tiny shards that you spend the rest of his precious naptime cleaning up. The tears shed over a forgotten toy. The not-wanting-to-but-Googling-it-anyways feeling when you desperately want an answer to a mystery illness. The realization that your house will never again look the same as it did before kids. All that’s not mentioned in What to Expect When You Are Expecting.
These are some of my memories from the early years of parenting. Granted, there have been many tender moments to go along with them. The love that almost overwhelms you when you gaze at your sleeping infant in your arms. The pride you take in your child’s first, tentative steps. The bittersweet emotions that surround the first day of kindergarten.
Shortly before my son entered first grade, my parents watched my son so my husband and I could go out to a fancy restaurant to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. As we were easing into adult conversation, my husband asked me questions which caused me to reflect on our past six years of parenting and what’s to come. He talked about our lives now — how we are often pulled in separate directions, and how he wished we had more time to spend together. He was quick to add that lately he has been “taking the long view” and thinking ahead to what life will be like when we have an older child who needs less from us. When we are able to do things we used to do together, like play tennis, or even to do things together we may never have, since in a way, we are both different people now than we were just six years ago.
My first reaction was sadness. Part of me can’t let go of the notion that I want to do it all: be a good parent, learn new things, read, exercise, spend time with old friends, make new friends, volunteer, work, play…and, oh yeah, sleep. I am deeply ensnared in “the busy trap” and I find myself getting caught up in the minutae of the day-to-day. When my husband brings up the topic of our vacation next summer at dinner (yes, you read that correctly — next), I find my mind wandering, thinking of the running list of things I need to get done after our son is in bed.
Since that night, I have thought a lot more about “taking the long view”. In some ways, sending my son to first grade helped me reflect on just how much difference a year makes. A year ago, I was learning all about elementary school: how to get my kid out the door at 7:12am (because we just couldn’t manage 7:10 and 7:15 was cutting it a little close to make it to school on time), how I needed to pack a snack for pickup because my kid would be famished by 2:40pm and how to plan the time from when we got home from school until bedtime. This year, the biggest transition has been my own — trying to get to bed at a decent hour so I am not Grumpy Mommy come five o’clock.
“Taking the long view” is the perfect antidote to avoiding both the busy trap and a new acronym which has entered the lexicon, FOMO, or “fear of missing out”. Somewhere in between our bucket lists, our overscheduled lives and our access to all the great stuff our friends seem to be up to via social media, we are so busy rushing around that I think we are losing track of where we are heading. Which is not always a bad thing, if we are enjoying the moment. But are we?
In the months after my son was born, just making it to the end of the day with a shower was an accomplishment. Now, I am onto bigger things, like working to integrate acts of kindness into our routines and explaining the upcoming elections to him, in the hopes that I instill in him a desire to learn about all sides of an issue and decide what he believes. In those sleepless days, I don’t think I could wrap my head around “taking the long view”, but now I can. Having gotten to this place, I can say without a doubt that parenting gets better. When I think about all of the fun experiences we have to come, I’m ready. I’m excited. But, I’m in no rush. Because the view from here is just fine.
Written by: Nicole Basham