In the early days, weeks and months of parenting, you are desperate to get to know that tiny human who crash-landed into your life with all sorts of wants and needs but no operating manual or language skills.
You face feeding issues and worries over weight gain. Sleep problems.
There are food allergies. Scary fevers. Ear infection after ear infection after ear infection.
Each time, you meet the challenge head-on — what choice do you have? — and you feel like a million bucks in that moment when you are hurdling over it.
Not that you have a whole lot of time to congratulate yourself because as soon as your feet hit the ground again, you see that you’re simply running full-speed at the next one.
Somehow, the next challenge always seems bigger, more complex than all the others before it. You glance behind you and see how small the others seem in comparison. You can’t figure out why they appeared so monstrous at the time. The only explanation is that you now have the benefit of experience. What once seemed so big now seems more simplified with the passage of time, with perspective.
Most of the challenges Mike and I faced as new parents were of the medical variety. They included lots of doctors of varying specialities. We easily met and surpassed our health insurance deductible two years in a row.
It was so very stressful. At times, it was even heart-breaking.
But now I have a very healthy little preschooler who hasn’t so much as sniffled in almost a year. This too shall pass, I tell my new-mom self.
For more than three years, I feel like I’ve been working off some sort of grand parenting chart filled with hundreds of little boxes that need to be checked off.
Breastfeeding issues? Check.
Four-month sleep regression? Check.
Croup? Hand-foot-and-mouth disease? Check and check.
Ear tubes? Check. (And then highlighted and checked a second time, for good measure.)
Proper nebulizer use? Check. Saline nasal rinse? Expertly checked.
Twenty-point allergy skin-prick test? Ouch, check.
Transition to the “big boy bed”? Potty training? First day of preschool? Checkity-check-check.
It’s a daunting list. And it only seems to get more daunting as we realize we’ve exited the realm of Typical Infant/Toddler Stages and Transitions.
All expectant parents are handed a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. When the baby is born, you get Happiest Baby on the Block. Then, if that worked for you, you move on to Happiest Toddler on the Block. These books seem to universally apply to nearly every baby. Maybe not every word of them rings true for every single child, but they remain pretty standard starting points.
The number of tried-and-true parenting manuals are slowly dissipating as Ryan ages beyond their words. As the issues that he faces become less standard or mainstream. Not because there’s anything wrong with him; just because he is an individual with his own temperament, his own anxieties and his own methods for dealing with his emotions.
The thing that strikes me the most, that is frankly beginning to frustrate me, is that it seems as though once a child hits the preschool age, the parental dialogue online quiets down. Google “breastfeeding vs. formula” and you will find an overwhelming amount of vibrant debate in articles, on blogs, on message boards and on health websites. Moms are weighing in, discussing unique strategies, detailing what worked for their families, providing endless resources.
Google “aggression in preschoolers” and you find some pretty bland information, a handful of somewhat obvious tips and suggestions, and noticeably less anecdotal suggestions from parents in the trenches. Sure, everyone talks about Age 3 tantrums … but if your issue goes above and beyond what’s typical, the discussion is more hushed.
I suspect there are a couple of reasons for that. Maybe by the time a child reaches that age, a second (or third!) baby has come along and the free time available to pour your heart out on the Internet about every last moment of frustration has been severely compromised. Or maybe parents just don’t want to talk about these things, to label their children in unflattering ways – even though as parents we know our children are wonderfully complex individuals and that no single issue could possibly define who they are.
No matter what I was going through as the mother of an infant, I always felt like support was easy to find. There was an endless line of people with babies who were prone to ear infections. Baby won’t sleep if he’s not in your arms? Millions of moms had been there, battled that.
Maybe that’s why the challenges seem so much smaller in hindsight.
Now it feels like Mike and I are treading out to the parenting deep end, where we are dealing with behavioral issues that other parents either assume we’re overreacting to or are judging us for or – worst of all – cause them to feel sorry for us.
I, too, struggle with how much to reveal online. I want to add to the dialogue without being unfair to my son. At the same time, I don’t think there is any shame in saying he is having a hard time dealing with his emotions. After all, he’s had a hell of a year.
He went from attending full-time daycare in Phoenix to living with my in-laws in Pennsylvania and staying home full-time to moving to a new house and starting part-time preschool. All within a five-month span. If he weren’t feeling a little confused by that, I’d think he was a freak of nature.
I wonder if the challenges of parenting get easier. I suspect they don’t. I suspect the hurdles just keep getting higher and higher as our kids age and start full-time school and deal with bullies or get wrapped up in the wrong crowd or god knows what.
Maybe then, I’ll look back on this chapter and sigh, thinking, if only I knew *then* how simple all of that was.