This week we celebrated my son’s nineteenth birthday, my nineteenth year as a mother, our nineteenth year as parents. Amazing. Time flies.
I thought I was pretty prepared all those years ago, though I’m not sure I’d thought beyond the baby stage. Nothing can fully prepare any first time parent for what is to come – although I must admit some people do seem to be born parents. I was not that way. It involves more energy than I ever imagined. It brings out the best and the worst in me. I remember the first time I had a letter home from school about making a costume for a school play. ‘No one warned me about this!’ I thought. Suddenly, I had to learn to sew in addition to learning how to help them learn to read, write and everything else.
It’s thrilling and terrifying all at the same time. The arrival of a tiny (though Sam was not tiny for long), cute, messy, completely dependent human being. As we carried him out of the hospital in his car seat we thought, ‘Wow, they actually let us take him home!’ Everything a wonderful novelty, the visitors, flowers and gifts, parents coming to stay and help. Then, eventually, real life starts.
Twenty-five days after the birth of our son we dropped him on his head. He tipped out of his bouncy chair which was on the countertop in the kitchen (never do that). Apparently, I let out a scream the like of which Tim had never heard before. The baby screamed as well which was a good thing. We rushed to hospital, and found he had a four-inch fracture in his tiny skull. I spent three days in the children’s hospital with him, crying, praying and apologizing to every nurse, doctor and visitor who entered the room. The nurses did their best to reassure me by recounting tales of household accidents that happen all the time.
As it became clear he would be fine, we became aware that the families in the rooms around us did not have such a cheery outcome. The baby in the room next door had spent his whole life so far in hospital. He was six months old and had been operated on a number of times. Discharged back into the world once more, we were far more aware of the fragility of this little life we were entrusted with and thankful that we could indeed take him home. I don’t think we weren’t serious about it before, but our parenting responsibility became more real after that event.
We learned about baby development, teething, weaning, sleep routines, discipline. We experienced all of the ups and downs of the same. By child number three we thought we were pros at the whole baby routine, but then, when our first three were out of nappies (diapers), almost all in school and we’d just sold all the baby gear, we got a surprise in the form of Issie, number four. Anything that had worked on the first three did not with her. Tried and tested theories went out the window. It felt like back to square one in so many ways, but we were a little more relaxed about it all.
Learning the particular quirks and characteristics of each child is a part of the journey; getting to know them, a great privilege. I treasure any conversation.
What works at one age doesn’t work at another. Sometimes it feels like we’re racing to catch up with the changes in ages and stages – not to mention how the world has changed for children from 1996 until today. Every stage has its challenges, and I have learned not to wish those stages away. It goes all too fast as it is. I watch young families come into the library, and remember what it was like when we all went everywhere together – to the library, day trips to farms or zoos, swimming pools, walks on the hills or by the sea, holidays and even trips to the supermarket. The unusual and the mundane. It felt like hard work sometimes, when one or other or all were having a bad day, other times lots of fun. All too soon we find ourselves in the letting go stage, when everyone wants to be heading in different directions, that’s the hardest of all.
I’m glad we’re not alone in it all. Advice is something we’ve always sought from lots of sources, our own parents, parents further on in the journey, as well as friends around us who are going through the same experiences and even parenting courses. I’m grateful for our own extended families, and being part of our church family in England, and now in Canada. Having people who love and show an interest in our children is essential. I’m so aware how important the positive input of other adults is into their lives. It does take a village to raise a child…and to keep the parents sane.
I make mistakes still. Tim makes mistakes. We get frustrated and lose our tempers at times. We apologize. Hopefully, our lot won’t need too much counselling when they’re older to get over our parenting.
One little phrase Tim instilled in them from early on (which they now groan at if we mention) is, ‘Love, love, love. Care, care, care. Share, share, share.’ Of course of all these things for any child, love is the most important. Knowing that they’re loved by not just us, but far more perfectly by their heavenly Father God is something we hope they learn from us. It’s something we’re still learning too.