Children are Our Real Teachers

My nerves were raw from trying to hold my tongue and not turn into a hollering banshee at my sweet children yodeling and smacking each other in the back seat. We had made it through the grocery store with little incident and now were nearly home, but already I could feel my shoulders tensing, anticipating the boys rushing in the house without helping to carry in any bags and then leaving their shoes in the middle of the laundry room floor for me to trip over while I hauled in our food and their little sister.

To top it all off, there would be no down time today because immediately after unpacking groceries, making their lunches and then feeding them, I would need to go out to the pool to take the cover off and skim the surface for any debris because we were hosting a short pool play date for some neighbor friends. Thankfully, the children are well-behaved and their mom and I enjoy each others company. But we really don’t get to have an entire conversation because the pool play dates require constant supervision and are interrupted every two minutes by a “Mom! Look at me!” or “Mom, Noah is splashing me,” all the while getting annoyed that we can’t finish a sentence before someone needs something else.

In other words, I was already fast-forwarding to how stressed out I was about to be. I was shaken from my inner movie trailer of “The Life of Mom” when Noah piped up from the back seat, “Mom, can you drop me here and let me walk the rest of the way home?” We were about five houses away from ours and when I glanced back at his little upturned, missing-toothed face in my rear-view mirror, I couldn’t help but smile.

“Sure.” I said and pulled off to the side, my prior anxiety melting into nothing.

“Thanks, Mom.” He said throwing on his little back pack filled with action figures and other toys he’d deemed worthy of today’s adventures. He also thrust his pirate sword through his belt loop then jumped out of the car. I reminded him to be careful and watch for cars.

“Ok, Mom. Bye, Mom!” His voice was that husky little boy voice that I can remember my brother Kevin using when he was about Noah’s age. It’s the little boy equivalent of a man’s voice when they are embarking on some uncharted territory and they don’t want anyone thinking them incapable, especially not their mothers. He waved as I slowly pulled forward. “See you soon, Mom,” he called after me. I had to laugh. Yes, I would be seeing him in about forty-five seconds.

I watched him from my mirror, his plastic sword swung from his hip and he held the straps of his backpack looking out over the neighborhood with a stoic squint of his eyes. I love watching my children grow up. It’s these little things that mark the changing of times for me and also let me know that in spite of my many mistakes, these kids are growing into exactly who they are meant to be.

A friend of mine is about to become a father and told me recently that he’s nervous. He’s scared of somehow being inadequate for his son’s needs and screwing up his life horribly. I reassured him with the usual “it would be fine and he would be a great father” speech. I knew those words would probably seem hollow to him though. They were to me too, when people said them before my kids were born. So of course his response was, “Isn’t that what you have to say? Isn’t that what everyone just says to make you feel better? I’m not naive. I hear parents complaining all the time about how hard parenthood is. And some parents genuinely don’t seem to enjoy it.”

So I went on to tell him the few absolute truths of parenting that we all come to understand, even those who make it no secret that they don’t love every minute of it.

“Everyone tries to scare new parents by saying things like, ‘Oh it’s only just begun…You have no idea how much your life is about to change.’ And it is kind of true, but you already know that. The best way to keep your wits about you is to wake up each day and to not have any real expectations of how your day is going to go. Then you won’t be disappointed when half of your to-do list doesn’t happen. That’s the hard part.

“The good part, the fun stuff, is what no one bothers trying to tell you because it’s virtually impossible to explain. But I’ll try. No one mentions this stuff because not only does it sound sappy, but you sound like a lunatic if you try to express these really tender, quiet, broken-down moments that you’ll find define all of it for you. All of the struggle, frustration, and disappointment seems quite small by comparison to these moments. And they’re not anything that will make your life easier or more convenient. They won’t help you get anything done. In fact, you might get further off track by basking in the glow of these times when they occur. They’ll just make your struggles a little easier to take. But the cool thing is, they’re only yours; not something you can articulate to anyone else. It’s an indescribable experience.  So although no one can prepare you for how difficult parenthood will be, no one can prepare you for how great it will be either. And here’s the real miracle of it: they are going to teach you more than you will ever teach them.”

He seemed satisfied with this response, but I know he won’t really get it until he gets it. The first seemingly insignificant moment that contained worlds of significance for me personally was when Noah was about a week old.

I was delirious with sleep deprivation. I’d never known I could feel so tired to the bone. Scott had just finished getting dressed for work looking polished and capable in his tailored suit. By comparison, I hadn’t showered in at least two days and my hair was in a messy bun on my head and I had awful morning breath. He brought Noah to our bed on his little Boppy pillow for me to nurse him. After he kissed my forehead and walked out our bedroom door, I waited to hear the garage door close then I quietly shook with sobs.  I felt so alone and didn’t know what I was going to do with this innocent, helpless little ball of flesh and hair. Each time I opened my eyes through my tears, I would feel smaller and more helpless.

Suddenly, Noah’s grumpy old man face turned upward and he pulled his little legs up to his tummy and arched his back looking like a little round-backed turtle and made the funniest, squeaky grunt I’d ever heard. It made me smile through my tears and I scooped him up and covered him with kisses thanking him for making me laugh. I knew, at least for that minute, I wasn’t so alone.

I do believe my children have brought infinite wisdom, true beauty and deep meaning to my life. I would never say that my life is easier with them in it. But I didn’t know how deeply I could love anyone until I met them either.

It’s not always the big trips to Disney or the elaborate birthday parties that will take your breath away and make you think, “This is what it’s all about.” Sure, those things are fun and prove to them you’re a cool mom or dad. But the things that will stick with you are those really simple, sweet memories that completely humble you and make you feel something indescribable. It’s in these moments that we learn something about ourselves. We’re stronger than we realize. We’re able to love in infinite ways. I will be forever grateful to my kids for teaching me who I was meant to be.

The best teachers I've ever had. (Luke, Grace and Noah)
The best teachers I’ve ever had. (Luke, Grace and Noah)

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