I’ve made a terrifying realization. Just the other day I was chatting with a friend of mine who has three kids, ages 6 to 13. We were discussing how every stage of parenthood brings new challenges and unexpected twists and turns, but just as many joys and feelings of, “It’s worth it!”
As we shared stories and our current challenges, it dawned on me:
I’m a parent.
You laugh, I know. “Well, duh,” you must be thinking. “You had a kid. What did you expect? Have you not figured this out over the last five and a half months? Calling yourself ‘Mommy’ didn’t clue you in?”
Here’s the thing, though: Until recently, all I have done is change diapers on, feed, soothe, play with, and rock Little Miss. I held her when she cried, I sheltered her from the weather, I talked to her as we went through our day and I helped her learn how to nap. I fed her when she was hungry, changed her when she was wet (and worse) and got up to comfort her when she cried in the wee hours.
I was a caregiver.
Recently, though, things have changed. Now, when she’s really interested in something she’s grabbed onto (my hair or a baggy of cheese we’re carrying to the fridge, for instance), she doesn’t want to let go of it. And when I succeed in prying it out of her tiny little fingers, she starts to cry. This is a new development.
She also likes to compete with loud noises. At a recent church social event we were at a school gymnasium playing games while people talked and laughed and cheered and children ran around in an unpredictable manner. As the room got louder and louder throughout the games, Little Miss started squealing. It wasn’t an angry scream, nor was it an annoyed howl. It was simply that everyone else was making noise, so she thought she could, too. Which is fine – it was a big room and everyone was making a lot of noise. But then she tried it out during a small group discussion in a friend’s living room. Not okay. I clapped my hand over her mouth and told her sternly, “No!” The look of surprise on her face was priceless and it was all I could do to keep from laughing.
When playing on a blanket, she often manages to push her toys away from her while trying to pick them up. Her dexterity is good, but occasionally she bumps or kicks them a bit farther than her reach. When she can’t get to them, even when she stretches as far as possible (she hasn’t learned to crawl yet), she starts getting cranky. I try to help her crawl toward the toy, trying to demonstrate how mobility can work in her favour, but she hasn’t quite gotten the hang of it. Usually (though I’ll admit not always) I’ll push the toy a little closer so she can reach it, but not simply pick it up and hand it to her.
Then comes bedtime. Oh yes, this is a struggle even under six months of age. I shudder to think what will happen when she can simply crawl out of her bed when she doesn’t want to sleep. She has figured out what it means when we give her a pacifier, take her into her dimly lit nursery, and move toward the crib. Before our hands are even pulled out from under her tiny little body, she’s already writhing and crying, looking as pathetic as possible to get us to pick her up again. Since we’re attempting the CIO (Cry-It-Out) method right now, we then end our evening serenaded by Ludwig van Babycryin’ and Wolfgang Amadeus ScreamIt. Forty-five minutes later the dramatic opera is over, the house is silent and we get to go to bed.
I don’t know when it started, but not only am I a caregiver, but now, suddenly, I am also a parent. I have begun already to discipline, teach and demonstrate “tough love.” I am in charge of forming and shaping a small brain as it grows and matures and selects its favourite quadrant. I am responsible for making sure this tiny growing person has manners, is well-behaved and develops that unique something every child is born with that is meant to give back to society.
Right now it’s only just beginning. Soon we’ll be ignoring her dropping things just so we’ll pick them up again. Then it will be convincing her to get in that bed and stay there with her eyes shut for fifteen minutes…then looking in five minutes later to see her sound asleep. Then we’ll move to explaining why she can’t have her own cell phone when all her other 10-year-old friends have one. Then will come makeup, inappropriate vs. appropriate clothing, boyfriends and adult-free outings with friends.
And then she’ll move out.
And when I put it like that, the time seems so short…I think I’d better go check on my little five-month-old. She’s only this young once.