Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Parenting: what's surprised me the most

When you're pregnant, you are constantly told what to expect once your delightful progeny arrives. Some things are repeated ad-nauseum: the tiredness, gross incidents with bodily fluids, the pain of labour, the fact you may not sleep through the night again until 2033 when your youngest child leaves home.

Due to all of this well-meaning advice (and not so well-meaning advice), "Oh! I thought that once I had a baby I would be able to sleep like I did before!" said no parent of a baby ever. While pregnant, I also read parenting books, talked to people, watched mothers, and spent hours on parenting forums. But, in spite of all of this, there are still some things about this parenting gig that have completely taken me by surprise:

1. Beady all-seeing eyes. One thing I didn't expect to find as difficult as I do is being constantly observed by my toddler's beady all-seeing eyes, First, it makes surreptitious junk-food guzzling much trickier, especially if it's food that I don't want to rot his teeth with. Then, there's the casual comments ("Mummy. You love Coke [Zero], don't you?") that make it hard to maintain a state of denial about my own bad habits. Now my son is three, it's also impossible to have certain conversations with other adults in his presence. He might not seem like he's listening, but it turns out that only a few centimetres from his all-seeing eyes are ears that are expertly tuned to pick up any hint of the salacious, scandalous or secret. 

2. Being constantly attuned to danger. I'd been told about this beforehand, but hadn't listened. It wasn't until I moved a hot cup of tea away from the edge of the table in a cafe where no-one under the age of 18 was present that I realised just how deeply this was entrenched into my sub-conscious behaviour. At least in this case, unlike my desire to continue to guzzle Coke Zero without judgement from a three-year old, I can probably blame biology and evolution. 

3. Just how much I would hate looking at poo. Again, I was warned, but didn't listen. There have been days when I've changed multiple nappies, and had to clean poo off the floor and scrape it off clothes.  And, in the case of one particularly traumatic incident, my forehead and fringe.

4. That I wouldn't miss things from my child-free days that I thought I would... The movies, going out for a dance, adult parties, backpacking around the developing world. Sure, these things would still be fun to do, but I don't really miss them either.

5. ... And that some things, I'd miss terribly. Going for a long walk, alone, with no-where I have to be. Sleeping in. Reading a book in the sun without interruption. Leaving the house without a bag. Being able to drive a long distance without having to have at least one stop at a McDonalds. Not having to think twice about wearing clothes that are dry-clean only.

6. How some things are so much more exciting now. Like Christmas. Now I have a toddler, I haven't enjoyed Christmas so much since I was a child myself. The decorations! The tree! Wrapping presents! When we paid Father Christmas a visit the other week, I suspect I was even more excited than my son was. There are also other things that I'd barely notice before having children that are exciting when seen through a child's eyes: a car carrier truck, a giant yellow concrete mixer, a big, fluffy dog. I love how children make you look through the world with new eyes, and remind you that there is beauty and excitement all over the place if you pay attention.

7. The pride. You know the type, the pride you sometimes feel for your children that makes you feel like you're about to burst. The pride that also makes you forget that any other child in the history of time has ever crawled, rolled, sat, done a pee on the potty or finished a difficult puzzle. And even if they had, they clearly didn't do it with as much finesse and poise as my lovely offspring.

8. The mortification. Sadly, children lack filters between their brains and mouths. Including mine, as is evidenced by a number of recent incidents of telling strangers he doesn't like them, telling people to stop looking at him, and calling a woman with unfortunate facial-hair that she was a man. As I stand in the corner and wish my hardest that I could disappear from these mortifying scenarios, I tell myself that this is the universe's way of keeping the pride in check.

9. How much they'd teach me. My children have taught me so much, in particular the importance of  enjoying the delightful little moments with them as much as I can, as they grow and change so quickly. My son, being a little know-it-all, has also taught me other, more concrete things. Did you know that chimpanzees didn't have tails, or the difference between a gibbon and a monkey? Neither did I until recently. Nor did I know I'd resort to Google to win an argument with a three-year old.

10. That I could change so much ... like, become a person that would not only not miss the movies and parties too much, but would even write about it on a blog. A PARENTING blog! Gasp! On the surface, having children has changed me more than I thought it would: how I spend my free time, how I dress, how I chose to spend my holidays, and what I make small-talk with other people about.

11 ... yet still be the same underneath. But, for all those changes, when I'm at work, or with childless friends, it's as if time hasn't passed at all. My values are much the same, as are my goals. It surprises me sometimes when I realise that I'm still me, just me with two delightful children.

12. And lastly ... that try as I might, I can't stop bragging about them. Point nine above is case in point, albeit boasting by stealth in this instance. I know that it's annoying and know that it's a bad habit, but I just can't help it. Maybe I don't have a filter between my brain and mouth either?

What has surprised you the most about parenting?

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