Sneakily, my kids got old, and now I’m the mother of Big Kids. They’re 7 and 9, so I knew that they were aging, of course, but it really struck me today at the grocery store. For about two years I walked the grocery store with M strapped to my chest, carrying on a continuous monologue about the splendors of delicious produce, the perils of partially hydrogenated oils, the changing seasons as they played out in large cardboard displays of foods and beverages. The trip would end with me talking too much with the cashier. I couldn’t help myself. There would be an awkward pause and I’d realize that I needed to make more friends who could respond to me verbally.
Then there was juggling the two girls: a short-but-bleak period when J would yell when strapped down and grab and throw jars when not strapped down. The constant choices: get out of the check-out line to run to the potty, or risk a 5-minute wait? Accept the proffered cookies because it’s polite, or refuse because the children were until this moment oblivious to the existence of cookies at this counter? Beg for another sample, or just pretend I didn’t see that my child wrapped her deli cheese around the shopping cart handle?
Today I was alone, efficiently unloading my groceries into the car. Nearby, a woman chatted with her infant while walking a slow pace for the toddler holding her by the shirt through the parking lot.
I don’t miss it. In fact, I’d almost forgotten what that was like.
On the rare occasions when the girls come along to the grocery store these days, I send them out on assignment to divide and conquer the list. They joke and skip along and quietly negotiate, then bat their eyes with extravagant, charming puppy dog faces while holding up a package of Oreos. They’re helpful. It’s a completely different experience from my early mama days.
All of which made me think of those mothers of older children that I’d encounter back when the girls were little. The ones who said that their children became more difficult, the problems were tougher, that parenting is progressively more challenging. My children were challenging as infants and toddlers, and hearing those women scared me.
Those women scared me.
I call bullshit.
Parenting a 7-year-old and a 9-year-old isn’t always easy. The dilemmas are both more subtle and complicated. For example, just in the past week for my older child, I’ve had to tackle the topic of showers and deodorant without sounding insulting and explain prostitution (in the most general terms possible, I assure you).
But more work? More work? No way.
Here are just a few examples:
THEN: I would wake up several times during the night, breastfeeding again at 5-something am, and just as baby fell asleep again, toddler was up and ready to play.
NOW: I roll out of bed at 7 am to the sound of the 9-year-old showering while the fully-dressed 7-year-old is reading with Daddy.
THEN: If I forgot a crucial ingredient for dinner, I’d have to strap both girls into the car and drag them to the grocery store with me or wait until Cute W could bring something home, throwing off the entire bedtime routine.
NOW: If I forget a crucial ingredient for dinner, I quickly drive to the nearest store after reminding the girls that I’ve got my cell and the next door neighbors are home in case of emergency.
THEN: Going to the bathroom alone was difficult. Company or screaming at locked doors. Once when I had the stomach flu, I ran off to vomit, and M followed me and clung to my legs, sobbing, while I heaved.
NOW: We all go to the bathroom by ourselves. Recently I had to purchase a tampon from one of those vending machines in a public bathroom and both girls just looked away discreetly.
THEN: If I tried to leave the house on my own, one or both girls would sob and occasionally break free and actually chase the car down the driveway.
NOW: When I leave the house, the girls look up briefly and say, “Bye Mom!”
I’m rambling now, aren’t I? Well, it’s difficult not to exult in the freedom of it all.
So, what the heck is with those mothers-of-older-kids? Is it the same nasty, competitive instinct that causes women to ramble about their Horrifying Labor Experiences at a baby shower? Have they forgotten what life with very young children was truly like? Did they just get it wrong somewhere, so their kids aren’t turning out as awesome as mine? I don’t know.
But if you’re a mother of a toddler and/or an infant and someone starts telling you that it only gets tougher, perhaps that was that person’s experience. It doesn’t have to be yours.
And, okay. I don’t have teenagers yet. There are so many years ahead, full of hormones and college decisions and driving. But right now, it feels like I can conquer any parenting challenge with the benefits of a full night’s sleep, an occasional workout, and a hot shower pretty much any time I choose. And if I’m wrong, don’t tell me. It doesn’t help to scare me.