Dispatch from the Land of Big Kids

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?

Literally juggling children

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 bulls%^t.

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.

Adorable? You bet! Easy? Nope.

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.

13 Comments

  1. Patti

    Great post!!! Thank you Thank you Thank you! I have wanted to call bull s… many times but as I don’t have big kids yet, how could I? So thanks for doing it for me. How can’t things be a bit better with sleep once in a while?! 🙂

  2. Sarah

    I have to say that I love, love, love this. My kids are 6 and 3 and I love the way they are growing up. I know that there are difficulties with any age, but there are the joys that come with it. I enjoy my daughters search for independence, but is still my little girl. I also look forward to all the things that are to come over the coming years. Thanks for putting it all into perspective !

  3. Claire

    I only have one child, and he has definitely gotten easier as he’s gotten older. But I still wouldn’t trade the infant/toddler/preschool years for anything, and I dread the day when he’s too old to snuggle with Mommy. Some people tell me it gets better as they get older. I hope that’s true, but I find it hard to believe. Easier I can believe, but better? I can’t imagine anything better than these early years. Yes, they have their stressors. But the joys far outweigh the challenges (for me, anyway).

  4. Thanks! @Patti, I did feel a little worried that the parents of teenagers were going to give me the smackdown. But I honestly was scared as a new mom, and I thought others might be, too.
    @Sarah, Each age does have its ups and downs, and I didn’t really get to how much this has to do with me. Having a little time to myself and confidence that I’m doing an okay job makes it worlds easier.
    @Claire, The surprise for me is how much they don’t get tired of cuddling with Mommy. And they’re so funny! They’ve been raised with my sense of humor, so most times I think their jokes are hilarious! And their babyhood personalities shine through and just blossom in the most interesting ways. . . . But I know some people who really mourn the baby stage, and I guess it depends, too, on whether each baby is “easy” or “challenging” and if the mama has some quality time for herself. My first baby was awesome but challenging, and I was much more worried, all the time, about whether I was doing a decent job. So for me, it’s totally gotten better.

  5. Claire

    My son was fairly challenging as an infant, and has gotten progressively easier as he has gotten older. But I think you might be on to something with the quality time issue. Because I have only one, I do have time to myself on a regular basis. That is probably a huge part of why I’m able to enjoy this age so much. (And believe me, I do spend a lot of time speculating about whether I’m doing a good job!)

  6. Bekki

    Oh, man, I quite possibly could have been the mom you saw in the parking lot. I LOVE my kids, but I really look forward to when they’re a little older. Everything is just so difficult right now, and I swear two kids is NOT twice the work – more like 10 times! My daughter is almost 3 right now and the older she gets the more I enjoy her. My son is 5 months and I’m trying to enjoy this time, but both of my kids have been incredibly “high needs” infants so it’s hard. Glad to know it really does better like I imagined it would. 😉

  7. Cheryl

    Hi Katie, finally back reading your wonderful blog, I don’t get on the computer as much as I’d like. Your writing is always so great! I agree with you about the “getting harder” comments from other Moms, no way!! It’s getting easier for me for SURE!! Keep writing, you’re great. I remember once I was with my little tiny one (now my big one) and another Mom (with a big kid) said “What I’m doing is much harder than what you’re doing!” Weirdest thing anyone has ever said to me.

  8. @Bekki, my enjoyment level goes up, too.
    @Cheri, thanks! Now where’s my picture of the day?
    @Cheryl, so good to hear from you! Sounds like that Mom had some issues. I mean, come on.

  9. Stephanie

    I’m so with you. Although at the time I would have told you that I loved having little ones, I feel like this is really just so much easier. Then I felt like a mom. Which was good, but all-consuming. Now I feel like a PERSON who’s a mom. My kids range from K-4, and they’re smart and funny and on a good day play nicely together and are helpful, and I never ever have to tie their shoes for them. They all get their own breakfast in the morning. They’ve got their own set of challenges, for sure, like leaving dirty socks all over the house. But I really like having them be older. Which is actually a relief, because when I started having kids, it was really only BABIES that I wanted, not kids! I didn’t know how much fun this growing-up business would be.

  10. Audrey

    What a great post! I’m a new mom and have almost made it through my first full year of parenthood while breastfeeding and working full-time. I have to say, I didn’t have a clue how challenging it was going to be — I was so completely naive! We’re doing the best we can and loving our little boy, but I can’t help but wonder and hope for the day when things will get a little easier so thank you for sharing.

  11. Erin T

    Those comments are about as helpful as I recall the comments when I was 9 months pregnant. Helpful people telling me “I’d better sleep now, because you’ll never sleep again” when I had horrible insomnia and my oldest loved to pluck my ribs all night. One time when someone said that, my husband responded that I wasn’t actually sleeping now, so we sure hope we can sleep later. Gotta love the helpful comments…

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