on the dangers of being smug

My daughter is nearly 18.  People say I am a good mother.  They might think I have this parenting thing down.

Um… no.

I moved to a new city in another country when I was eight-months pregnant.  My childbirth class teacher recommended a La Leche League meeting as a way to meet other mothers.  She thought it would be a good way for me to make local connections in my new home.

I’ve lived in the Seattle area for 18 years now, and some of my dearest friends came from those meetings.

Also, some of the best parenting advice.

This, too, shall pass.

My mentor in all-things-mothering was the first to share this gem with me.

It is both comfort and threat.

I went into parenting feeling confident – my sisters were born when I was in high school and I babysat for all my younger cousins.  I had the idea that I had experienced pretty much all the nuts & bolts of it, barring the obvious exceptions of giving birth and breastfeeding.

I can’t even begin to come up with an adequate analogy for how inadequate that thinking was; sure, I knew my way around a diaper or a snap-up onesie, and I had a bag of magic tricks for handling a teething baby or a cranky toddler.

But nothing could prepare me for crippling sleep-deprivation, the mind-numbing banality of Barney at 6:00 am, the helplessness of holding my unconscious daughter in my arms, or the sight of her blood.

Neither was I prepared for the joy shared with her as she smiled at me for the first time, taught herself to read, created wickedly funny new puns out of words she had never heard, or landed her first job.

Of course, I had cared about these things with my sisters, but I was so much more invested with my own child.  And, with my daughter, there was no one to hand her back to, no pause-button.

I was the one.  I was ‘on’.  I still am.

{This, too, shall pass.}

When things are hard, when nothing goes well, when you pray for the end of the day so that you can start fresh tomorrow – and it’s only 9:17 am – this is the mantra.  When there are stale food crumbs on the floor that even the dog won’t touch, when you’ve stubbed your toe on the high chair for the eleventieth time today, when you can’t remember the last time you brushed your teeth, and the phone and doorbell ring at the same time – waking the baby – and you can’t tell if it would be better to scream with rage, cry out with frustration, or sob with self-pity, because, goddammit, it was NOT supposed to be this way, that is when someone must be there to tell you,

This, too, shall pass.

Because it will.

Here is the danger part.

A day will come in your parenting when you feel like you have it all together: your preschooler smiles good morning, gets herself dressed, cheerfully eats the nutritious breakfast you have preparered, and accompanies you for a day of errands.  She follows instructions, makes up stories to entertain you in the queue for the bathroom at the children’s library, and keeps her fingers out of her eyes, ears, nose, and your mouth.  She watches wide-eyed as another child has a fall-down, drag-out fit in the middle of the cereal aisle at the grocer, moving to the other side of you as you pass the scene.  In the car, she laughes at your jokes before nodding off to your favourite Grateful Dead CD (no one demands Raffi in your car), her perfect rosebud mouth smiling at you even in her sleep.

You see where I am going with this, right?

{This, too, shall pass.}

Just when you are sure you are down to your last frayed nerve…

Just when you think you finally have it all together…

The rules change.  Your child changes.  The world changes.

You change.

After all this time, I am better at remembering the mantra – in both circumstances.  Sometimes I need to be patient for the passing; sometimes I simply need to be grateful for what is right in front of me.

I cannot afford to be smug about it, not even for a minute, because all of this, too, shall pass.


  • I had to let this one ferment in my mind a little bit. You are one year ahead of me on the empty nest trail but when did our little girls grow up? I know, I know, it is almost passee (sp) to say they grow up so quick, but, dammit, they do. One part of me is excited to finally kick the baby out of the nest to see how far she will fly but part of me also wants to tie those apron strings as tight as I can.

  • I hear that. And I am with you. I am with you: kicking? tying? kicking? tying?

    Which will it be today? It can change from day to day, or even from hour to hour.

    Mostly, I know we are both almost ready. Mostly… almost…

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