It was 11:00 at night. Eager, sweaty, and far fatter than I ever thought I’d be, he was here. Two hours old, already napping, my little man was here, cozy in my arms, and I couldn’t stop staring at his miniature perfection. He was so fresh and tiny. I sat there, fixated, watching him calmly breathe, fingering his teeny toes. If I was an emoji, hearts would be pulsing through my eyes.
And I anxiously awaited “the shift.”
You know. The shift. The parenthood shift. The moment where everything changes, and you’re a wise, efficient, multitasking luminary. I gazed and waited, gazed and waited. Hearts were shining in my eyes straight toward him, but a strange sense of panic was starting to seep in me. “Nothing will be the same again,” they told me over and over — yet I felt exactly the same. The same old Maria, just with a baby. An imposter with a baby!
How the hell was I ever going to keep up?
“You become a supercharged version of yourself when you have a kid,” my dad had told me years before. “The distractions melt away, and you’re faster and more focused.” Okay, so I knew this mystical transformation to parenthood wouldn’t happen instantly, but I expected some sort of acknowledgment from my brain — a dormant part of my cerebrum would light up like a Christmas tree, giving me magical, loving directives on what to do next.
You know — instant bonding, sudden mommy intuition, phenomenal cosmic parent powers.
These might have been my last coherent wishes because for the next nine weeks, I didn’t sleep at all (oh, and by the way, non-parents, sleeping through the night by nine weeks means he was a good sleeper). But over the weeks that turned into months, that turned into years, I’ve learned that the “supercharged” parent version of yourself doesn’t happen in a week. Or a month. Or even, from what much more experienced parents tell me, 18 years.
Parenting is trial by fire. It’s honed slowly and painfully — welded over time, kind of like a sword. Which is apt, because swords are dangerous, like parents.
Here’s what I’ve since learned.
There is a shocking amount of love in this world.
Let me remind you: every single human being starts out as a tiny baby. From the famous CEO to the barista at your local coffee shop, everyone was born as a naked, helpless infant — utterly dependent, requiring years of devotion and sacrifice just to survive until kindergarten, nevermind learning how to read.
Obviously, no parent is perfect — and the headlines routinely remind us of the horrible ones — but the fact that the human race exists completely boggles my mind when you think about how much effort goes into one person.
Sometimes, I find it crazy that we haven’t died out by now as a species until I remember the amount of love I feel for my two boys, and then multiply it by billions. Truly, the amount of love living in this world is phenomenal.
We’re all a work in progress.
Sometimes little children can seem a lot like mini pre-humans. Toddling around with mashed avocado on their face, or echolocating in muffled monosyllables, it’s like they’re an entirely different species. And in that limited line of thought, it can be easy to assume that your job as a parent is to take this clay in the form of a baby, and mold it into the kind of adult you see fit — you know, one with good table manners and a marketable degree. Ta-da! Parenthood done.
But if you go about it this way, you’re missing the point (and a lot of fun). Kids are obviously a work in progress — but then again, so are we. In fact, one of the more effective methods of parenting is trying to discover the world with them — expanding your own horizons — rather than exclusively imparting them with the small lens you’ve been looking through.
It’s a humbling pill to swallow, but watching your kid grow is a constant reminder of how much we as adults are constantly growing, too. A fellow mom, Stephanie, shares: “My parenting skills would grow as my child grew. We kind of grow into each other’s needs.”
And when you start thinking about it this way — about how everyone, at any age, is slowly uncovering the world at their own pace, with their own talents and blind spots and idiosyncrasies — there’s a lot of hope. We’re all working on ourselves; we all are growing to meet each other’s needs.
Life happens in seasons.
Right now, I am writing this in my office, in a half-finished Midwestern basement. I know that if I go up the stairs, their noisy toys will be strewn about, a fresh large pile of laundry will be piled high, and definitely, a lot of squished blueberries will be on the kitchen floor. Later, I’ll help my husband put the kids to bed, and then proceed to clean after the half-potty-trained hurricane and his tiny needy infant brother.
Sometimes it’s a hilarious joy. Other times it is excruciatingly tiring. And when we’re in the trenches with little kids, it can feel like this is just perpetually our life forever — but that’s obviously not the case.
This is a season — an exhausting season — and it will pass. They’ll help put the dishes away; they’ll fold their own laundry; they’ll even stop playing with toys. What will remain is the bond we’ll forge and the memories that will turn into stories.
So I am reminded to enjoy the seasons as they come, and to realize a terrifying truth. As a fellow mom puts it, “It’s an ever-growing realization, but my son isn’t mine. He’s his own tiny self that I have somehow been entrusted to nurture into this life.”
Of course, we know that change is ongoing, and nothing is permanent. But when you’re a parent, suddenly that truth hits like a ton of bricks. Some seasons take months, others years. But somewhere in the thick of all the changing weather of parenthood, we become wiser, more efficient, and multitasking luminaries.