Before you have kids, people will tell you that parenting will change your life, and push you to your limits. Especially the parents of young children, who will grab your arm in the grocery store or at parties and hiss out warnings, as though they’ve escaped temporarily from an institution and want to make sure someone on the outside knows about them (before they are dragged away by orderlies singing the “Jake and the Neverland Pirates” theme song).
Before you have kids, you will listen and nod, because you’re being polite and you’re absolutely positive that the crud-covered, scattered mess of a human being standing before you could not possibly be your future. Well, I’ll have it more together than that, you think. I mean, I know parenting is hard, but nothing could keep me from taking a shower on a daily basis and at least keeping up with some current events. I’m going to maintain my adult self. And I won’t go to a party smelling like graham crackers and poop, that’s for damn sure.
What you will not know in that moment, is that the crud-covered mess of a human being is totally sugar-coating it. This is partly unintentional, because there simply are no words for the depths of exhaustion and frustration to which the early years of parenting will drag you. But also it’s because if you could understand the reality of parenting small children before doing it, absolutely no one would reproduce.
Your friends with little kids want you to think it’s a rosy stream of birthday parties and Pinterest projects because misery loves company. I mean, yes, you will love your children more than you ever thought possible to love anyone, and at times they will break your heart with joy. But dude, in the meantime, you will actually lick yogurt off your own shirt and call it breakfast. And that won’t even be the grossest thing you do that day.
Parenting doesn’t “push you to your limits.” It pushes you over the damn edge, and then some. It’s sort of like Basic Training, except it goes on for years instead of weeks, and you don’t come out of it with rock-hard abs and the ability to run twelve miles carrying a tent and assault weapon. You do come out of it with the ability to navigate an entire grocery store on fifteen minutes of sleep, with a 30-lb “portable” car seat in one hand and a whiny toddler pulling death for donuts on the other, which I think is equally impressive.
There comes a point in the process of raising young children that you realize you have crossed some invisible threshold. Not only do you no longer identify with the person you were pre-kid, but you don’t even remember who that person was, or how she managed to fill up her days without having Cheerios stuck to her ass. That moment is graduation from parenting boot camp, baby. You may feel and even look like you’re being dragged over a rocky precipice by chimpanzees of superhuman strength, and it might even smell that way. But this is your moment of glory, moms and dads. Revel in it. Once you’ve gone over the cliff, things get much easier. Without your sanity and your smug sense of self in tow, you can travel light. Every day is an adventure, as long as you don’t need to know where you’re going or care how you will look when you get there.
For those who are in the process of parenting young children, you may recognize some of these signposts on the way to insanity. For those with older children, you may have vague memories of this stuff, but to fully recover them you’ll need hypnosis and a trained psychiatrist. If you are simply contemplating offspring, well, don’t say you weren’t warned. Of course, you’ll be different, so you won’t have to deal with this stuff. You can just point at me and laugh.
Here are some signs that you are headed over the edge:
- “Mommy’s quiet time” involves sitting in an empty bathtub with the door locked, hugging your knees and muttering to yourself.
- Nearly every bag of household trash contains a substance which, strictly speaking, should require biohazard labeling and special transportation permits. As a result, you simultaneously feel sorry for your garbage man and fantasize about trading jobs with him.
- Your cat has applied for a transfer to a local coven of witches, figuring she’ll take her chances with dark magic. At least they’ll pay attention to her and will probably scream less than the kiddos.
- When the preschool teacher tells you your son has “goop coming out of his eyes,” you don’t react in horror or panic, but ask calmly how much goop and exactly what shade of yellow it was. You have more names for the color of mucus than Crayola could ever dream of.
- You just took away the bank teller’s television privileges because he asked if it was “cold enough for you.” To be fair, you did just say that the next person to ask you a stupid question was going to get it big time.
- Someone asked what you do with ‘all that time’ while your kids are in preschool. You spent the next twenty minutes fantasizing about putting his head in a meat grinder.
- After fierce negotiations at every meal, bedtime, and trip to the car; you’re fairly sure you could run a conference of mafia dons or bring two warring countries together over Legos.
- Recently you got pulled over for speeding, on purpose, just so you could have some adult conversation. Plus it entertained the hell out of the kids for two and half minutes to see a real police officer up close.
- Another mom just lectured you on the benefits of breastfeeding, attachment parenting, staying home with your child, going back to work, finding the ‘right’ preschool, Paleo for kids, sleep training, positive discipline, spanking, not spanking, or anything else, and you didn’t punch her in the mouth. You reward yourself with a brownie sundae. Extra large.
- You know every word of the songs and dialogue to the most recent Disney movies, and you don’t understand why your non-parent friends can’t appreciate their subtle artistry.
- You carry two pairs of clean kids’ underwear, a portable game system, extra crayons and six kinds of snacks with you everywhere you go. Even when the kids aren’t with you.
- You have a list on your phone labeled “Crazy questions for the pediatrician” for things you’re too embarrassed to call about.
- About twice a week, you shrug your shoulders and say, “Eh. It’s only pee.”
What did I miss? When did you know you had graduated from Parenting Basic Training and made it to the big leagues?
I’m M.J. (Manda) Pullen, an author and mom in the Atlanta, Georgia area. I’ve obtained a pass from the institution and taken several preschool teachers hostage so I can blog about writing, publishing, parenthood, life in general, and the many lessons I’ve learned the hard way.
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My current roster of books includes The Marriage Pact series, a trilogy of Contemporary Romance/Women’s Fiction novels. You can find them for all eBook formats and in paperback here.
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