Life · motherhood

The Difference A Year Makes

I don’t understand how you can take your kids all those fun places.  I feel like I’m barely making it in survival mode.

Well yeah, you still have babies!  I only have one car seat to buckle and everyone can walk.

All I ever do is get drinks and wipe bums.  How do you have time to cook such healthy food?

Um, because my youngest is potty-trained and can play by herself and get her own drink.

I’m constantly just putting out fires.  Every time I turn my back she’s made some other huge mess.  How is your house always so clean?

My kids are older.  They know how to wash dishes.  They’re actually helpful.  And I don’t have a toddler anymore.

Have you had conversations like this?  I have.  Repeatedly.  With the same friend.  Apparently I couldn’t get it through my head that the two of us weren’t exactly in the same boat, and therefore I shouldn’t expect my life and well-being to look like hers.

Yes, her kids are older, but not that much older.  Things don’t change that fast, do they?  No, I must be lacking some indispensable quality that makes people good at life.  There must be something wrong with me.  I should be doing better.

But last week I finally saw the light.  All it took was babysitting an adorable, chubby little barely-one-year-old boy.  Eliza, my youngest, is just two, and we all call her “the baby” and yes, she’s very young.  But this baby was a lot more, shall we say… baby-like?  He needed to be spoon-fed.  He couldn’t stand up by himself and he fell over when I left him on the bean bag for 30 seconds (yeah – didn’t think about that).  I had to hurry and put the Legos up and watch like a hawk for any other choking hazards lying around.  I’d forgotten how clean the floors need to be kept with a crawling baby in the house.

It was fun to watch him and everything was fine, but I was amazed at the constant attention and effort he required just to stay OK.  And then I started to remember…

I remember carrying Eliza around all day because she would scream (not cry, SCREAM) whenever I wasn’t holding her.

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I remember making dinner and then making another, separate dinner that she could eat.  And then feeding it to her while my food got cold.

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Now she feeds herself!

I remember not being able to leave her with a sitter because she was nursing, or too tricky to put to bed.

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I remember making a bottle as fast as I could while a tearful 1-year-old stood between me and the kitchen sink, pushing on my knees (do anyone else’s kids do this??).

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This stuff was not that long ago!  Even six months ago Eliza’s communication skills were nothing to what they are now.  She can tell me what she wants, and most the time she’ll even speak up when she has a poopy diaper!  Sure, she gets into things whenever I take a shower or leave her alone for a few minutes, but at least I can take a shower or leave her alone for a few minutes!  She is constantly wanting a snack, but once I get the snack, I can just hand it to her and walk away.  Things have CHANGED, ladies and gentlemen, and fast!

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hardware store then…
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…and now

Think back to a year ago.  What was your biggest challenge?  Did you feel run-down all the time?  What was the thing you wished you could do but never had the time or energy for?  What frustrating kid behavior was driving you batty?

I bet it’s different now.

There are definitely exceptions, but I think for the most part, and especially with young children, things can change a LOT in one year.  Not that you won’t have some new demanding task or something else frustrating to deal with.  Life is always hard.  But it will be different.  And thank goodness for that.

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a year ago – happy, but see how tired I look?

I think I need to mention that, along with the hard stuff about Eliza a year ago, there was some pretty great stuff too.  I don’t have to carry her around all day, but now I hardly get to carry her at all because she prefers Dad.  It’s super fabulous that she can talk now, but that means she can also talk back.  I used to have to rock her to sleep at night, but that was precious time spent that we won’t have again (except when I sneak in and rock her while she’s already asleep – don’t tell her!).  There’s always joy built in to every challenge.

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She’s Daddy’s girl now.

You new moms (or any moms – I’m assuming this pattern continues), I’m going to say this, and you probably won’t believe me.  Maybe you won’t believe me until your future self looks back at your current self in absolute awe, but here we go:

You are doing something incredible.  And yes, you ARE cut out for this.

If you’re struggling with something hard or exhausting, or you’re wishing you could do some great thing that’s just not working out right now, give it a year.  Try to enjoy what’s awesome about right now, and look forward to enjoying something different next year.  Maybe by then your baby will sleep through the night – think what a difference that would make!  Or it’ll be a breeze to go to the library because that one child will have grown out of his tantrum-throwing phase.  Or someone will start school and you’ll have a little time to yourself.  You will look back at yourself now and realize what a wonderful job you were doing all along.

A good friend emailed me about a month after Ben (my oldest) was born to see how I was doing.  She had no children at the time, but her wise, motherly words have stuck with me ever since:

“If the kid is still alive and you love him you are a success.”

I truly believe this.  To all you who worry about what you’re not doing, or wish things could just work out a little better, or be a little easier, just give it a year.  You won’t believe how different your life is, and how much you have learned, and what you have made it through.  You are amazing!

Since I’ve already gone crazy with the pictures, here’s more evidence of our changing family, and mostly Eliza doing super-grown-up things like wearing clips, smearing pomade everywhere and being the only kid in the stroller.

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