The other day, in my continued preparation for an influx of family for the holiday season, I bumped into something with the vacuum cleaner under one of the beds in the guest room that set me to thinking. I’ve been focusing a lot the past few years, as my kids get older and leave the nest, on how fast the time has gone, on all of the things I’ll miss about parenting little kids.
Why not indulge during a few moments of house cleaning in some of the things (in no particular order) that I actually don’t miss!
1. Packing four people up for a trip.
Love traveling, hate packing! Did you remember your toothbrush? Do you have enough underwear, warm clothes, cool clothes? Don’t forget your favorite stuffed animal. Do you have the charger for your game boy, your book, your sketch pad?
2. Finding a babysitter.
Whether it was for little kids or a teen, never being able to leave the house on a whim, without a plan and a trustworthy person in charge.
3. The stomach bug.
Did we catch it when we visited those friends who just came down with it? When is it going to hit? Who, where – in the middle of the night, in the car, on the plane, all of us at the same time?
4. Time out! 10, 9, 8 or 1,2,3.
Rewards (aka bribes). Stickers and charts. We tried so many systems for various things over the years and not the kids’ faults, we were really never good at following through with any of them. Now, good old-fashioned reason usually prevails.
No matter how organized I ever could get, this was always a struggle for me. What to give the kids for lunch? How to balance the good with what would realistically be eaten? How to package up leftovers? If it wasn’t forgotten, the lunchbox inevitably returned with something half eaten, soggy, crumby, or sticky.
6. We bought a zoo.
From reptiles to rodents, fish to fowl, we always had a house full of animals – some more “lovable” than others. It’s still raining cats and dogs but they’re mellow and middle-aged (like us). The snakes and the sharks have gone on to greener cages at the local nature museum.
7. Temper tantrums.
We might have invented the term “hangry.” And although my kids still experiment with these occasionally, and even I might teeter at the edge of control, we can look at each other now and say “Really? Eat something!” Not always possible with the youngsters.
9. Watching the good shows alone.
I’ve always liked a sexy soap opera or a bloody saga. With young kids and a husband who watches exclusively sports, I often forewent the TV, or started late when any awkward noise couldn’t be questioned from down the hall, “Mom what is that sound?” Now I love nothing more than to settle into a good show with my kids, or to discuss it via text. From college, “OMG Are you watching Game of Thrones right now?” At home, “Mom, time for Empire!”
10. Applying sunscreen. Reapplying sunscreen.
11. Pretending everything’s ok all the time.
Sometimes the news is bad and the world sucks and you want to get back in bed and pull the covers over your head. It’s ok to share that now. It’s ok to feel sad, or anxious, and to discuss the real stuff, the hard stuff.
[Related: Are we ever able to truly protect our kids from the bad things and bad people in the world?]
So what was under the bed? A rope safety ladder. For years, I told my husband, we should make a fire plan. We have a big rambling wood home configured so that the kids’ rooms are across the house or on the third floor. We might not be able to get to them in a fire. In my mind, I knew what they should do. But did they? We had talked about it but never really rehearsed. Would they remember?
12. The feeling of constant peril.
Of worrying that I haven’t taught them enough, that I haven’t thought of something important that they need to know in order to survive. That we haven’t practiced our plan.
I’ll probably never stop worrying. There is so much we can’t control and so much danger every day. And there is still a lot of parenting ahead – according to recent studies, certain parts of the brain don’t fully develop until the age of twenty-five. But here we are now. They’re strong and smart in all their own ways. They’re as likely to be the ones rescuing us in a disaster. Just as I counted ten fingers and ten toes when they arrived, I count my blessings every day that we’ve made it this far.
Christine Kouwenhoven lives in Baltimore, Maryland with her husband and three children (mostly grown, two flown). She works as the Communications Director at Baltimore School for the Arts. Christine has an MA from The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University. She shares poems and reflections regularly on her blog poem post. Photo credit: Kitty Kouwenhoven