Tuesday, February 2, 2010

It Gets Easier (Babble)

I’ve had a little time to read through a lot of excellent mommy blogs lately, and I have stumbled into several by moms with babies or toddlers who just sound swamped.  The baby years are cute, but really exhausting.  I wasn’t much of a baby person until I had my own, and I loved the newborn phase, and the rolling phase, and the crawling and the new words….  But I’m finally glad to be moving beyond all of that.  For awhile I kind of wanted one more, because the kids I have are so amazing I’d be curious who else we could make.  Then I remember how much work it is, and I know I don’t want to revisit that.

But it got me thinking that some of these new moms could use some lights at the ends of various tunnels, and I want them to know that (barring unusual circumstances which can happen to anyone) it does get easier.  It really does, and here are some things to look forward to:

One day, diapers are over.  We still deal with goodnites for overnight accidents in our house, but I haven’t changed a diaper in a long time.  I didn’t mind it when I was doing it, but not to be chained to a diaper bag anymore is heaven.  It’s hard to remember the tyranny of diapers once you get past it, but I’m past it and I’m glad.  Every time my son runs off to the bathroom to pee on his own I smile and appreciate how awesome that is.  No matter what stage your kid is in with this, someday it will be done.  And it’s great.

At some point you’ll realize they dress themselves.  This one snuck up on me because I don’t think for most kids this happens all at once.  Some pieces of clothing are easier than others, so maybe they can do shirts but still need help with socks, etc., but at some point they can do it all.  I remember back when Quinn was only a few months old I got really frustrated about just how long it was taking the four of us to get out of the house for a particular event, and then it hit me that it was the clothes.  I had to put every piece of clothing on everyone (and then take a bunch of it off again to change a diaper or help someone use the bathroom), plus all the winter clothes on top of those.  I realized that if I simply dressed and redressed myself four times in a row it would take forever.  The time you save by not dressing the kids is fantastic.  That time gets sucked up by something else, but I love that other than Quinn’s pants and some zippers here and there, I no longer help with clothes.

(Of course, kids dressing themselves comes with their choosing what to wear which has its ups and downs.  Mona thinks layering means putting on a pair of shorts over her jeans, and on the coldest day of the year she is guaranteed to come down to breakfast in a tank top, but I tend to think of it as a weird added bonus peek into her peronality.  I know some moms for whom coordinating clothes within an outfit on their kids is important to them, and those kids do look ready for picture day at a moment’s notice, but I’m not one of those moms.  I barely know how to dress myself so I have no business dictating a sense of style to my kids.  As long as they don’t get frostbite or heatstroke I’m usually fine with whatever they pick.)

In the car, at least, the bigger the kids are the less room they take up.  I resented having to buy a minivan when we had our third child simply because we couldn’t fit three car seats in the back of the regular car.  It seems insane to me that when my kids are teenagers we will all be able to get into the smaller car, but while they are little we need the van.  Aden can already get away with not using a booster from time to time, and I can’t wait to be free of bulky car seats all around.  In the meantime, kids buckling themselves is worth doing a happy dance over.

Eventually they can use words to tell you what’s wrong.

One day they offer to help and it’s actually helpful.

I just gave our stroller away.  I thought I’d miss it and I was WRONG.

They don’t need me to operate the DVD player anymore.

At some point you get to sleep again.  Not as well as you maybe once did, but enough that you don’t feel like you’re operating in zombie mode all the time.  Sleep makes a huge difference.  It will come.

Their needs don’t change on a weekly basis.  Part of the reason there is so much clutter that first year is things like a bouncy seat are great–for two months.  Then it’s just there taking up space.  There are baby things you maybe use once, some things never, but you don’t know what will work or what they’ll like, so for a long time there is a brightly colored mess of baby things everywhere.  It gets replaced by a different kind of mess, but at least one that most kids are capable of picking up themselves if you are willing to nag.

I like that we don’t have to weigh the kids every month and measure their heads or think so hard about new foods.  Kids still change quickly after the baby stages, just not at the lightning pace that is all consuming when they’re tiny.  It’s a relief when what they wore and ate today wasn’t any different from what they wore and ate last month.

And finally, you don’t have to stare at them every minute.  This is huge.  My kids were the sweetest, easiest babies, and they slept well and seldom cried and had no trouble nursing and they were STILL exhausting.  I can’t imagine how people survive babies with colic or kids with special needs to compound the worry.  Just being responsible for a tiny person all the time is enough to fry your brain some days.  My kids are finally at ages where they don’t need me for everything.  I can tell I’m overdue to make a meal when I hear chairs scraping around in the kitchen as Aden and Mona get peanut butter from the upper cabinets themselves.  Quinn feeds himself yogurt on his own some mornings if he’s up before I am, and half the time even remembers to throw the little container away when he’s finished.  I like it when they are self-sufficient that way instead of running to me for something all the time.

There was a moment a month or so before Ian shipped out when I realized this deployment was likely going to be easier than the last one simply because the kids were older.  He was away on an extended Army training weekend and I had the kids to myself and looked at it as a sort of mini dry run.  We went to Target on a Saturday afternoon to pick up some basic things and wound up eating lunch there.  Right after our food was served Mona announced she had to use the bathroom, and for the first time I realized Aden was old enough to take her sister there.  It was just around the corner, no big deal.  They held hands, happily walked off to the bathroom, and returned a minute later.  It was like a miracle had happened. 

Last deployment, when the girls were smaller and Quinn was a baby, trying to use the bathroom while eating out was impossible.  If any of us had to go, we all had to go.  I never knew if we should abandon all of our food and hope no one tampered with it while we were gone, or try to scarf it down and then go to the bathroom or what.  It was one of the many reasons we usually just stayed home.  But now Aden and Mona can go together and I can sit with Quinn by the food, or if Quinn needs to go the girls can stay at the table and I can take him. 

It’s been life changing.  I used to think of small babies as pretty portable, but walking potty trained young people are even easier most days, and it vastly expands our options for getting out.  When we go sledding they can drag the sleds back up the hills themselves.  Aden can take a shower and Mona can run her own bath.  They still need me for a million things, which is fine, but to not have to attend to every little thing every second is a relief.

My most most dramatic example of how their growing up has been helpful came about a week ago.  An hour before I was supposed to leave for a rehearsal I started getting sick.  My head hurt, I was freezing, and I just needed to crawl into bed.  I cancelled the sitter and tried to figure out what to do.  The kids were only about an hour from going to bed, so I decided to put Aden in charge.  I gathered all the kids around and explained that since Aden could tell time, she was going to announce when they should all brush teeth and climb in bed.  No one was to argue with her because I was putting her in charge.  I asked Mona to repeat back what I’d said and she answered, “Brush teeth and go to bed now!”  No, no, listen again.  I explained it two more times before Mona finally heard what I was saying.  Then she asked if Aden could also read her a story, and Aden said she’d be happy to. 

I took some ibuprofen, crawled into bed under many many blankets and listened to the sounds in the house while my head pounded.  I fully expected to hear some kind of fussing or problem that would require my attention but none came.  I assumed at some point someone would open my door, even if it was just Quinn coming to sleep in my bed, but no one did that either.  There was happy playing and running around, and eventually there was silence. 

I got up around 8:30 to use the bathroom and have a look around.  Plenty of evidence that they’d brushed their teeth.  They’d cleared a path to the stairs like I’d asked so I wouldn’t trip on any toys in the dark.  They were all tucked into their beds, soundly sleeping.  Even Quinn, who normally sleeps with me, let Aden put him into his own bed so I could have a break.  I was so proud of them I can’t even tell you.  Getting sick the last time Ian was gone was a nightmare because there is no leaving a baby or a toddler in charge of itself.  I just suffered through it and stayed sicker longer due to the strain.

I woke up the next morning feeling fine, and they brought me a surprise breakfast in bed.  I’d heard Aden tell her sister to keep me distracted so I wouldn’t hear what was going on, so when Aden and Quinn went down to the kitchen, Mona came into my room and just started singing.  It was hilarious and sweet and I don’t think I’ve ever loved my kids more.  They made me a bowl of cereal and two toasted pop tarts and a glass of water.  I’ve never tasted anything better.

So yes, the baby and toddler years are tough.  Hang in there.  Your reward in the not too distant future will be singing and kind gestures and maybe even some desperately needed down time.  Even at this stage for me there are still challenges and rough days, but it could be so much harder.  I could be the one in Iraq missing all of this.  I do my best to appreciate it for both of us.

(Quinn, Mona and Aden in hats made for them by my cousin Liza)

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