There Will Be Schmutz

May 24, 2013

Posted By: Bozemama

Every parent knows about Survival Mode, right? Before we became parents we had maybe experienced a similar must-keep-head-above-water vibe during finals or while studying for the bar or climbing Mt. Everest. But then, as soon as our Herculean task was accomplished, we could pat ourselves on the back, have a beer or some cake, go home and sleep for three days. Being a new parent doesn’t exactly work that way, does it? It’s not like our task is accomplished when baby starts to walk or goes to Kindergarten or heads off to college. No, no, no. The truth is our job is never ever, ever done.

In the early days after Hermione was born, my new-mom body coursed with adrenaline and doubt; and I would lie in bed before sleep, waiting for that calming wave of achievement over a job well done to wash over me and lull me into slumber. It rarely came, of course, because my job wasn’t even close to being done. But, after about thirty seconds with my head on the pillow, I’d be drooling and dreaming about wearing a clean nursing bra and Brad Pitt (not necessarily at the same time) and so it didn’t really matter.

Those days weren’t easy, but they were manageable. It wasn’t until baby number two came along that things actually became unwieldy and staggeringly overwhelming. Having a baby and a toddler simultaneously does seem to be the ultimate test. For instance, can you actually keep it together when – after spending nearly an hour getting the baby to sleep so that you can finally get a break and spend quality time with your firstborn – that older child, in its sweet zeal and obliviousness, wakes the baby?  Can you breathe and smile and not break into tears when you’re subsisting on two hours sleep and dry Cheerios?

My pal Bunny Fufu likens it to Survivor . “You’re sleep deprived; you’re eating poorly; you have to hang out with these uncivilized people; you may get a few hours peace if you’re lucky; but you never really get the immunity necklace unless Supergrandma or Uberauntie come to town and give you a night off.”

This is what I am hoping to do for my beloved niece, Fiona, when I visit her in a few weeks’ time. We are thousands of miles apart and -- with a three-year-old still recovering from surgery and a one-year-old learning to walk -- she is knee-deep in the trenches right now. “I feel in and out of consciousness,” she says. “I’m cranky, unhappy, nasty, impatient with everyone. If I can get six hours of sleep without interruption then I start to feel back to normal. Otherwise, I have no energy for anything and I don’t remember anything. It’s like being drunk.” (Actually, there are plenty of studies that show that driving drowsy is akin to driving drunk.)

Now that my kids are into, and entering, their second decade (and advancing on the next singular-and-oh-so delightful stage of parenting hell known as adolescence), I can step back and commiserate with Fiona on the phone. I recite all the things that kept me going when I was in her shoes nine years ago: “This is just a small slice of a big pie; you are a hero for your children everyday; it only gets easier; one day you’ll look back on all this (on the beach with a Pina Colada in your hand) and maybe even miss it.” Maybe.

Bunny Fufu is “over the hump” now that her bunnies are getting older and this elicits from her a rare Zen perspective on this period of parenting. (Plus, she is just lucky enough to be this kind of person most of the time anyway):

“You feel like there’s this riptide and, you can fight it, but you’re not going to win. And there’s something very powerful in that,” she says, Yoda-like. “And, while it doesn’t feel like it at the time, that expansion of yourself and of not being in complete control actually broadens your skills, your abilities and your personhood.”

It’s so true. I remember trying to keep our new minivan pristine after we first got it when Charlie was born. I spent about a month wiping and vacuuming to no real avail, until their father looked at me and said, “Let it go. There will be schmutz.”

And this has been, for me, the definition of parenting ever since: There will be schmutz – and we will manage it.



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