Today is my daughter’s 19th birthday.
Birthdays are always bittersweet. On one hand, I’m delighted to see my babies grow up. On the other, I mourn the loss of the babies they once were. And I guess if I had three hands, I’d say on that extra hand, I was one step closer to nirvana.
Why, you ask? Well…it’s because once upon a time, I had this epiphany.
You’re wondering what that epiphany was…I can feel it. Ok…here ya go…raising a child from infancy to adulthood is akin to a difficult labor and delivery. I don’t know what the catalyst to said epiphany was exactly—it was somewhere in the middle of a conversation with Mike where we were talking about toddlers and teenagers and the comparison—but I remember the moment it came to me. It was right after Mike said, “I wish their entire lives could be as easy as that first year.” It made me think about my kids and their lives from the beginning until now.
And at the beginning there was that first pain of labor.
I had long difficult labors, but like most labors they started slow. They started with a few little cramps—not comfortable, but hardly horrible.
That is sort of like the first year of your child’s life.
Having a new baby means lots of hours of lost sleep, a fair share of vomit in your hair, and no time to take a shower or eat a peaceful meal. But it’s hardly difficult…on a grand scale anyway. My apologies to the new parents of the world, but you will soon discover that this was the easiest your baby will ever be.
The next step of labor is when those little cramps get stronger and begin to make you take pause. Your resolve is slipping, and you’re almost ready to accept that shot of pain killers that you swore you would forego in favor of the purity of a natural childbirth.
This is like the terrible twos and threes. Your little darling is getting more and more difficult to manage as they become mobile and learn to manipulate their surroundings. You think this is the worst phase you will encounter, and you can’t wait until it passes and your child becomes the angel you always dreamed about.
You get over that idea just about as fast as you get over the idea of “natural” childbirth. Somewhere in the middle there, just as you feel like you are being split in half by some acid dripping little alien, you break into a full on panic, pleading for as much of the damn drugs as they are willing to give you. Damn the consequences and the purity. Suddenly, the idea of natural childbirth simply means the baby will come out of the correct hole, as nature intended.
Because if nature didn’t want us to be fully medicated they would not have invented morphine!
In the hours (or years) that pass once you accept your fate and dull your senses to better manage the process, things roll fairly smoothly. You don’t mind carting your children to baseball practices, cheerleading tryouts, and birthday parties every weekend. You don’t complain about having lost your own identity in exchange for being their mom. In fact, you thrive on the chaos…you are medicated…certain that everything is going to be alright. The hard part is over, right?
The teen years crash into you at a hundred miles an hour, just as the drugs wear off. You are pitifully unprepared for the horrors of this delivery. This is harder than any book described. More visceral than any firsthand account you had memorized in preparation. This is where the sensation to push that baby out of your body (or out your house) is so overwhelming, you can barely breathe through it. There is no Lamaze training that can prepare you for the gut wrenching anguish of knowing that no matter how badly you want to push, the doctor keeps telling you, “It’s not time yet.”
“What do you mean it’s not time?!?” You squeal. How can it not be time? You need this creature out. But they are not ready to go yet, no matter how loudly (or often) they scream to the contrary. There are still very important preparations that need to be made before you deliver this frenetic teenager into the adult world.
And as you both scream obscenities until the air is tinged a vivid blue, you finally realize that you have come full circle with this little bundle of joy and mayhem. Nothing alive could create as much grief, pain, and mental anguish…or as much unparalleled love, pride, and devotion as the child that you witnessed taking their first breath on this earth…and will hopefully witness taking their first steps into maturity and self-reliance.
I love my children with all my heart, and sometimes it takes a step backwards to see what is right in front of me. They aren’t babies…or toddlers…or children…or even teenagers forever and one day you will look back at their lives—their trials and tribulations…their triumphs and advancements—and you will miss every crazy moment.
I know I will.
Until the next time…I’ll be embracing the ring of fire with my eye on the prize!