This year as a mom has been a personal transformation. I’m coming to the realization that I’m not a mom of babies anymore and I’m mourning the loss of their baby fat and cries and snuggles and sniffles. In my rational mind I’m screaming at myself for saying I miss it because while I was in it I couldn’t wait to get out. Now it keeps hitting me in the face that we are fully into the next stage of parenthood. What I really miss is the confidence that came with knowing what to do with babies and toddlers.
There are so many benefits to this stage because I feel like an actual human with a soul again. I’m totally celebrating the euphoria of sleeping in and having personal independence. I can go to the bathroom without an audience and even mix in a bath while people are home and maybe only get one question. I can eat a meal while it’s still hot and don’t have to share what’s on my plate. I’m down to making 80% of everyone’s decisions for them instead of 100% and that is some sort of magical mom freedom. We now have additional contributors to the family in conversations and household chores and the dynamics in the home are exponentially more lively and interesting. Four personalities is rich in a way I never knew before and I giggle and smile and learn more than I thought I would.
The flip side of this is the stuff you don’t know is coming or in my case that I knew was coming, but naively thought I still had a few more years until it reared it’s weirdly challenging head. When you’re pregnant, it’s clear that your life is changing. The physical change really snaps you into it and your body so nicely gives your mind many months to prepare. Your friends and family shower you with supplies and gadgets and more unsolicited advice than you’ll ever get for anything in your life. Unless you announce you’re going to Hawaii. What is it about that place that elicits the strong reaction of unsolicited advice? I digress.
Yes, the baby stage needs preparation. Keeping a baby alive is a big deal and takes lots of work on no sleep. But as I come to find out, the next stage takes different work, is ridiculously confusing, and no one talks about it. I don’t even know what to call it. It’s not quite the teenage years. There’s enough about that in society that I know I’ll be in for it. It’s post toddler, pre-teen little/big kid stuff. You can’t even buy clothes for these kids. Are they youth or big kid or extra large toddler? Who the hell knows?! Thank goodness they only want to wear the same 3 things over and over because I don’t know how to build a bigger wardrobe.
But what I’m talking about here isn’t the logistical challenges that come with this big/little kid age. It’s the emotional toll of losing the babies and transitioning into independent, strong willed, fumbling know-it-all’s who actually know nothing and can kill themselves or you if left unattended. Should I be encouraging them or sheltering them? They speak so maturely but can’t master wiping their butts completely clean. What weird ass world of parenting is this and how do I not totally screw them up?
When I was in fifth grade, I vividly remember the freedom I had at home. I walked to school back in the days where walking trains weren’t a thing. It was up to me to sprint across the backyards to the school and get there before class started. I was on my own schedule and I lived at home with my single mom so I only had one pair of eyes to evade. Every morning I would get up before her, shower and then wait for her to get in the shower. I’d then promptly retrieve her make up, apply some thick black mascara, powder, and lipstick, yell goodbye to her and leave for school leaving her clueless as to my transgressions. I looked ridiculous but I felt amazing. As an adult, I blamed this and other rebellions on my circumstances growing up. I lived with a single parent, many of my friends from dance were older, and I was exposed to things earlier. I was also an only child so I had no one to tattle on me. Well it turns out that was a total crock of bullshit that I told myself because my 9 year old, who has only friends her age, is supervised around the clock, has a little brother with an amazing tattling ability and who is a terrible liar has now successfully snuck my makeup twice. I clearly recognize the karma in this situation and am only sad that my mom isn’t around to get the deserved grandmother chuckle of validation she deserves so dearly. But seriously, WTF? 9 is like what I thought 12 was in my mind. How am I so delusional? They still seem so young and innocent. They still sleep with stuffed animals and one of them still has a car seat. They can’t even successfully cut their own food. Plus, we are still years away from the dreaded middle school and the little one who I call little, but is 7 just lost his first tooth! 7 seems old but 1st grade seems like babies. Am I in denial because there are two of them at different ages? Am I cool or embarrassing? Do you need a mom hug or to be left alone? Should I trust that sweet innocent baby face or know it’s just a cover for the lies and hidden candy wrappers you inevitably have in your room. I invented that cute look, don’t use it on me. Crap it’s working.
Whatever this confusing stage of weird in-between parenting is, it needs a name and a book and a big/little kid mom shower where you get slap-you-in-the-face unsolicited parenting advice, warnings, makeup bag locks, and wine. That seems nice right? I know it’s unrealistic. We’re all too busy shuttling these kids around to too many activities or learning weird new math to help them with an excessive amount of homework. Since we feel like a normal humans again, we’re mixing in vacations, date nights, and girls weekends for self care. When that’s not happening, there’s work functions and late meetings and lingering working mom guilt. Sometimes there are family room dance parties and game nights and mandatory snuggles to hold on to that little bit of baby innocence left. Maybe we don’t name this time or talk about it because it’s so fleeting. The true inbetweener of childhood and childrearing where both kids and parents are too busy transforming that there’s no time to stop and think about it. It’s so bizarre to me that I love it so much but the things that are happening are so weird. Once I figure it out, it’ll be over as most things are. Cheers to all the parents in the weird big/little kid stage keeping it together and scratching their heads on a daily basis