When it comes to babies, parents are given a predictable list of things they should attempt in order to keep healthy and well-rested: sleep when baby does, go to bed early, sleep late, get enough exercise and fresh air, sufficient time alone and time as a couple. But let’s face it, very young children (those under 2) require an immense amount of hard work, the physicality of which is rarely appreciated until it is your back strained by the repetitive lift, bend, lift bend of young child rearing — until Ibuprofen becomes part of your daily dose. Add to that the sleep deprivation and strains on your wallet, couple hood, and career, it’s no wonder many of us have decided to leave propagating the species to other heartier younger souls.
So it is with a dramatically unmixed sense of “Hurrah!” that I’ve observed increased independence from my now 6 year old twin girls. The early years can be long and I understand that the other later years can go by in a flash, but the joy and reprieve of having children who are potty trained, capable of making their own breakfast, and keeping themselves entertained (without TV, no less) is nothing less than a complete miracle.
And not a moment too soon.
I fear this mama is growing old. And tired. And the sassiness occasionally gives way to sagginess (of spirit only, not to worry) so this independence is coming just in the nick of time. For my sisters who are just now venturing down the motherhood highway (on the cusp or past 40) you have my unwavering wishes for hearty and continued good health, happiness, and much high quality childcare assistance. To you men who will be throwing catch with your children well past the age of 50, you have my undying admiration (and wishes for a good masseur). I began my journey at 33 and now, nearly 7 years later, it seems I couldn’t have started a minute later.
I’ll never forget people stopping me and the twins along our (rare) stroller ride through town when the sweats and under-eye circles were like an “I Am Exhausted,” sign and they’d hurry to reassure me: “Don’t worry. It will get easier.” “When?? When??” I wanted to know.
Of course the trick is that you never really know exactly when that easier portion will start (particularly when you have another child at 36), but I can now officially encourage all who are in the early phase of parenting. It Does Get Easier. Mark my words.
The best rugrat reprieve occurs at the age of independent breakfast making. More than potty training even, the child who prepares her own breakfast can be encouraged to do so (on weekends!) so that parents can sleep in. Imagine! Only another year or so until I can read through the Sunday paper uninterrupted and complete a crossword puzzle or two over a hot cup of coffee.
One of the best gifts of parenting is that it takes dramatically less to make a weekend morning feel fantastic. Sleeping until 9, hot coffee, newspaper. Any one of those and the day is made. Lowered expectations are a magical side-effect of raising children.
I understand from those who have gone before, that older children come with their own fair share of baggage (the taxiing, the talking and listening, the dating, the money, the cars, the worrying) but for now I live happily in the netherworld of elementary school. All is still innocent and relatively safe. Parents are still (mostly) listened to and adored. No worries yet about fashion, or weight, or dating, or arguments about who gets to drive. The eye rolls do occur, but I’m not yet thoroughly disdained and am still greeted as the conquering hero at the end of each day.
I’ll be 40 soon. And now they are 6. I’ll be getting the AARP magazine right as they get their drivers’ licenses. This reprieve will end before I know it. I will appreciate every soccer game free morning between now and forever. I will enjoy watching my daughters covered in grime not giving one thought to their urchin appearance or muddy shoes. I will stop and look down at their healthy bodies and imagine the day when I’ll have to stand on my toes to see into their eyes.
Babies may be a gift from God, but older children are surely the best reward of a fickle and unreliable Universe… the only time off for good behavior ever granted a tired parent.