A friend who had a baby six months ago wrote to me last night that she was waiting for things to return to normal. Those weren’t her exact words, but it got me thinking about parenting and how things are never the same again. With the birth of a child, comes the birth of a new normal. And the normal changes from hour to hour, day by day, week by week. That’s the thing about parenting: you think you’re onto something and the game changes or the rules change. But the really crazy thing about the new normal? You wouldn’t have it any other way.
Normal used to be eight or more hours of uninterrupted sleep, coupled with naps on the weekends. The new normal is rarely getting a night of uninterrupted sleep and when you do, you panic and run to the child’s room to make sure he or she is still breathing. Or, on nights you could be sleeping, you lie awake and watch them sleep. This new normal isn’t so bad after all because it’s tiny toes in your side or snoring in your arms. The sleep thing is one of the hardest parts of the new normal, but eventually, (they say), it gets easier.
Normal used to be going out to dinner with your significant other. You’d dress up, maybe, or call friends to meet you. You would talk and laugh over dinner, eating your food while it was warm and enjoying every bite. The new normal? You might try to get a babysitter, to no avail, or maybe you decide on a family dinner. You pull your hair in a pony tail and wipe the marker off of your face (or your significant other does it for you) and you order chicken fingers and fries because that’s what the kids like and it is the thing that comes the fastest from the kitchen. Your children have their own plates, but for some reason, they insist upon eating from yours. You eat quickly and rarely while it is hot. But as you watch them dip their French fries in ketchup and they giggle when they put some on your nose, you have to laugh, too.
Normal used to be long and regular shopping trips with your sister, mom, or best friend. You’d leisurely decide between the black or gray top, while sipping your latte. The new normal is a trip to Target on Saturday night and watching (and laughing) as all the other parents end up there, too! You watch another family, much like your own, in line at the snack bar. As your daughter promises she won’t dump her popcorn this time, you hear their son begging for a slushie, not the organic juice the mom is pushing. Above their heads, you smile at one another and remember this tribe of women, silent sometimes, but united by experience of this new normal.
Normal used to be a house that was relatively tidy. Maybe you weren’t as crazy as some about keeping the house in order (or maybe like me, you were!), but you were never embarrassed when someone stopped by unannounced. The new normal is that your house is never ready for unannounced company but you’re learning to welcome them anyway. You’re learning to let go of those expectations and just say “come on in. The door is always open.” So, the new normal is toys all over, crumbs on the floor despite the fact that you sweep often. It’s handprints on the door or windows and pretzels on the sofa. But all of this shows that little people live here and grow here. They laugh here and play here.
Normal maybe used to be a life that was quieter. Books and movies on the sofa or long walks at your own pace. The new normal is louder. It’s squeals and laughs and crying and whining. It’s books and movies still, but mostly, they aren’t of your choice. Somehow, you’re really familiar with Eric Carle and Disney characters. And walks are different now, too, because your son stops to talk to every dog and to show you every acorn. But he is an explorer and you remember that you are, too.
Mornings in the old normal might have been hurried, but it was only because you overslept. You took your time and actually got a shower and did your hair. You picked your clothes carefully and stopped for coffee on your way to work. You actually listened to the music you liked! The new normal is a morning of craziness and the morning shuffle. Maybe you still shower and do your hair, but it’s always at a faster pace and most days, you just throw your hair in a pony tail. You grab a coffee through the McDonald’s drive thru and order the baby the cookies she loves. You sing “Uptown Funk” loudly on the way because she laughs while you do. And while your mornings aren’t the same, you love how happy she is so early in the morning or the kisses your son gives you right before he walks into school.
And while sometimes, you will visit the old normal, it won’t be there to stay. Sure, you’ll go on a date night or a shopping trip with your favorite women. Yes, you’ll read your own books and watch movies you really want to see and sometimes, your house will be really clean! And you will enjoy those times a lot. And sometimes, you’ll yearn for the old normal and cry for it. Sometimes, you’ll crave it so badly, that you run out of the house in your pajamas because another adult told you to go to the store alone, and you were in such a hurry actually to do that, that you ran out not realizing it. But even when the old normal returns in the fleeting moments that it does, you’ll always want the new normal back, eventually. You like your crazy life. Because for you, that’s the way. It might not be the way for everyone and you know that’s okay, too, but it is the way for you.
You haven’t lost a life; you’ve gained a new one. And for you, the snow has never been as beautiful until you see it fall on your child’s nose. Or you never noticed how blue the sky actually was until you realize that your daughter’s eye are the same color. You’ve never held anything so special as your son as he falls asleep, your arms his sacred ground.
And as these kids of yours grow, the normal will shift again and eventually, the old normal will seemingly return. But even then, these children will always be there in your heart, even if they are in college or married or traveling the world. And you will just adjust to the new normal, even if it’s hard like it first was when you became a parent. The new normal or the old normal–you’re just happy you were able to experience them. Your children have shown you the way and how to see the beauty in the every day. They’ve challenged you in ways you never imagined. It’s not easy but nothing worth doing ever really is.
Thanks for Mothering the Divide with me, as we all weather whatever normal is for us in the here and now.