As a science teacher, I could probably recite the definition of evolution in my sleep. As a parent though, the constant changing over time has me quite overwhelmed. Kids evolve physically throughout the years from the little ball of mush you could hold in one hand to the teenager towering over you. Their personalities evolve drastically from the terrible twos to the awful adolescence. But the evolution I didn’t necessarily expect was the change in what the most challenging parts of parenting would be.
When my son was little, I was a single teen mom pushing myself through high school and then college. The challenges of his first few years were the constant sleep deprivation, figuring out how to get a shower and look somewhat presentable, and the never-ending diaper changes. I had to learn his cries, figure out the trick to putting him down in his crib without him waking up, and recite the hypnotizing lines of “The Ants Go Marching” until I was blue in the face. It was tough. And even though I can’t remember much from that time period (sleep deprivation will do that to you), I can recall sitting there crying as I rocked my baby to sleep thinking, “I can’t wait until the day when he can just TELL me what’s wrong and why he is crying.”
And then that day came.
But the challenges didn’t stop or magically go away, they simply morphed into new challenges. Yes, he could sign that he wanted food or drink and eventually could even tell me what it was specifically that he wanted. But then the challenge was that he suddenly REFUSED the milk that he loved for years and only drank “Spider-Man juice” because clearly that was cooler. He didn’t nap like a “normal” child and would lie there crying until he finally passed out an hour later, only to sleep for 30 minutes instead of the two hours the baby books described. He came down with every daycare illness under the sun and had a perpetual runny nose for what felt like three solid years. “I can’t wait for the day I can reason with this kid and explain to him that Spider-Man juice and milk are the same damn thing!”
And then that day came.
Then, I could take my son with me most places I went without fear of him knocking over an entire display of watches in JCPenney (yes, this happened). He was like a real human, not a tyrannical monster! Except now, he was in school and dealing with homework every night that I had to sit there and force him to do. He gave attitude to his teachers and was a behavioral nightmare in class because he was bored out of his mind. He definitely knows that Spider-Man juice is just milk, but he doesn’t really care. He just refuses to drink it anyway. And now I have to start punishing him for said refusal and most likely the disrespectful tone with which he said it. Then, I get to cry myself to sleep because I punished my son and I must be the worst mom in the entire world! “I can’t wait for the day when this kid is more self-reliant.”
And now . . . that little tyrant is a teenager. Now, I have a whole new set of challenges that seem to shift the course of my mood or day in a matter of seconds. I have to worry that his friends are good people, that he will have a level head when someone offers him drugs, that he won’t get a girl pregnant (like I was at 16). I stay up at night conflicted because sometimes, I just want to smack him for being such a jerk to me when I am the one who gave him life, and at the same time I mourn the loss of my little boy and dread the moment in a few years when he leaves to go off to college. Suddenly he isn’t getting in trouble in school anymore but he is putting a rap video on YouTube where he throws out the occasional curse word. Now, he may or may not be getting inappropriate texts from girls and I just don’t even have the heart to look. And those mood swings . . . “I can’t wait for the day . . . the days where I could pick him up, rock him to sleep while singing his favorite song.”
As the challenges evolve, so do the moments that bring you the most joy. The amazing feeling you get when your baby smiles at you for the first time grows into the overwhelming joy you experience watching your toddler learn something new. This eventually blooms into the rewarding experience of hanging out with your teenager and truly enjoying who they have become as a human being.
Evolution is a necessary part of life; we must change and adapt, or we don’t survive. By no means is parenting easy, but if we know ahead of time that our challenges and joys will change as quickly our children do, perhaps we will be more fully prepared to enjoy every oh-so fleeting moment.