16 December 2015

Life Journey

We all know the birth order stereotypes: the first is the responsible one, the third one learns to be patient and sleep through anything. While I'm sure there is lots of truth to them, I don't want to credit all of Theodore's chill baby personality with his birth order - he's only three weeks old! But all the comments and advice got me thinking about the way we look at where other people are in life.

I don't know if it's a human or American thing, but we have a tendency to look back on those who are earlier in the journey of life and laugh as they stress over what we see to be simple tasks. "Oh, the woes of being two!" We joke as a two-year-old flops to the ground in a full-blown temper-tantrum over a toy that won't cooperate. We chuckle over the high school student who is stressing about an upcoming paper or finding a unique dress for prom. "To return to the simple days of childhood, when we had no real responsibilities!" Parents think that of newlyweds ("They have so much time and energy!"), parents of older kids think that of first-time parents ("Small kids, small problems; big kids, big problems!"), empty nesters think that of families. We seem to forget that the brains of the youth are still developing - that an uncooperative toy is understood by a two-year-old brain differently than an adult brain. The parents of families look down on the "dual-income-no-kids" newlyweds, forgetting what it was like learning to embrace the selflessness required to make a new marriage bloom.

I'll dive into metaphor here, because I love metaphors. Life is a journey, right? Over different types of terrain. We stride through the long, wavy grasses that whip our legs, toughing us up with each step. Next through the deep, cold river where we learn through error how to maneuver through the undertows. The thick, oozy mud is where we get dirty, trading our fresh beauty for evidence of our brave adventures. If you've got little ones, you probably realize I'm borrow the terrain from We're Going On A Bear Hunt and next is the big, dark forest. It's easy to look back at those swishing and swashing through the long wavy grass with envy as we stumble and trip through the forest. But remember how many leg muscles we built? How much we grew mentally withstanding the long journey thus far? Last is the swirling, whirling snowstorm with howling, bitingly cold winds. By now we have strong muscles, lasting endurance, we are no longer worried about get mud or water on our clothes. Each step gave us challenges that we had to overcome in order to get the strength we need to press through this snowstorm.

We shouldn't laugh at those struggling through mud because that was us once. And we shouldn't despair that we don't have what it takes to make it to the bear cave - we will by the time we get there. And some people will cross terrain that not everyone will experience, maybe those who can't have children or those with special needs children.

I think all these thoughts as Theodore fusses in his rock n' sleeper on his way to his nap. I never let the girls fuss. I stressed and worried and pleaded with Facebook for help. I worried about overmedication when I dispensed gas drops and fretted about over- or under- dressing the kids when we went out. It was good and right of me to worry about these things then. When someone hands you a new life to care for, it is good and right of you to stress when that life cries. I think it shows what a good parent you are when you stress and worry and plead with Facebook for a solution. You are struggling through the thick, oozy mud! You are learning what is okay, what your boundaries are, and how to keep your family safe!

I'm not "loosening my parenting standards" by letting Theodore fuss. I know now what different types of fuss/whine/cries sound like, which ones are serious, which ones I can ignore for a few minutes. I know - now - which baby behaviors require my limited energy. Instead I am now wondering how many days in a row the girls can wear the same pajamas before I need to wash them. If I've "let myself go" if I get Abigail off the bus in these leggings. I stress and worry and plead with Facebook for an answer as to if/how to break up a fight over the Hello Kitty ball (that I shouldn't even be letting them play with in the house). Families of teenagers might laugh at my silly dilemmas as they stress over having "the talk" or handing over the car keys.

Instead of judging each other and our past and future selves by where we are now, let's just empathize and feel compassion for ourselves and one another.

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