To all the Parents of Graduates:
“As Good As It Gets”
(first published in January 1994)
Deanna R. Adams
When I first became a mother, I would often get well-meaning advice from veterans (parents of teens or older) that went something like this, “Just remember to cherish these precious times with your little ones, they grow so fast. These are the best years of your life!”
I, now the mother of two girls under six, have often reflected upon these words of experienced parents and have indeed questioned their memory banks. Have their recollections taken a grace-saving leave of absence? Or am I simply an overworked, underpaid, unappreciative, therefore, inept mother?
Their words would echo softly in my ear as I’d awaken from a blissful night’s sleep by the insistent wails of a hungry, wet or potty-training child. I’d think of them through alternate wipings of baby faces and bottoms, or while hearing myself shriek, “Now what did I just tell you?” in a voice and expressions that would make Linda Blair in the “Exorcist” look like Dorothy from Kansas.
That’s when a sense of dread would envelop me like foreboding clouds of an impending tornado. “Oh, they’ve got to be kidding!” If this is as good as it gets, I’m not long for this world!” I say to myself. Yes, since motherhood, I’ve acquired certain personality traits that include talking to myself (who listens anyway?) and calling everyone in the house by a different name. Like when I called my two-year-old “Tigger” (our cat) instead of Tiffany, resulting in the poor girl’s first identity crisis.
Between coping with sibling rivalry, abandoned social events for lack of a sitter, and crayon scribbles on furniture and doors, I must own up to an occasional pity party. To say the least, life is more complicated than I ever imagined during that time I thought only of having a beautiful baby to nurture.
After burning countless dinners by rushing off in response to blood-curdling screams from the next room (only to find the little darlings playing happily) and mopping the kitchen floor so many times a waxy buildup seems like a luxury, I have come to a conclusion.
We only remember the good stuff.
Indeed, somewhere between changing my last diaper (trust me) and seeing my kindergartner off to school, my sense of humor has been restored (though still takes flight now and then) and I’ve purchased some rose-colored glasses, allowing me to see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Now as I observe my children’s growing independence of me, and listen to the anxious concerns of friends raising teenagers, I’m beginning to grasp the meaning of those fateful words.
I can even conjure up a snicker or two recalling some of the unusual occurrences at our house during this post-baby era. Take for example, the day I was in a fenzied hurry and grabbing the wrong tube on the bathroom counter, began brushing my teeth with diaper rash cream. Or the time I spread chunky peanut butter over toast only to discover that the chunky part was actually some Cheerios that had mysteriously found its way into the jar. Then came the most unusual day my youngest finally did exactly as I told her. We had made a cake and I said she could lick the bowl, which is precisely what she did, diving her tiny head in and licking the remains like a grateful cat.
I’m also learning to take advantage of my situation by blaming the kids for every tom fool thing I do. So when I put the box of cereal in the refrigerator or spend so much time looking for something that I forget what I’m looking for, I simply throw up my hands and remark, “It’s those kids, they’re making my crazy!”
Nowadays, I am experienced enough to recognize, even appreciate, this special time in our family’s life. Times I’ll surely look back on and yearn for these very days (did I say that?). Like moments when I receive huge bear hugs for no apparent reason. Or when I enter the front door and am bombarded with wet kisses and squeals of delight that “Mommy’s home!” Or as I stuff yet another artful drawing into the drawer because I can’t bear to throw it out.
The real joy comes from knowing my husband and I are the center of our children’s world. I love the fact that I’m the one they turn to whether they are happy or sad, and that they tell me everything on their minds—something I’m fairly certain won’t be true once they reach adolescence. This is the only time I still have control over their actions, when they believe all I tell them, and are more affectionate towards me that they’ll probably ever be in the future. Perhaps the best part is the evenings, after they finally are asleep and I sneak into their rooms to watch over them. I stand beside their beds gazing upon my little angels (see, the mind does play tricks on you) all tucked secure and safe and I treasure the feeling of knowing where they are and what they are doing. A luxury I realize I won’t always have.
It all came together for me the day I was celebrating my birthday. My daughters, Danielle and Tiffany, like most kids, love birthdays no matter whose it is. So with youthful exuberance, they anticipated Daddy’s arrival home, anxious for party favors and of course the favored birthday cake. However, my normally thoughtful husband, while remembering my birthday, forgot the cake. Once getting over the initial disappointment, Danielle had a brainstorm.
“I know,” she squealed, “We can use the pudding in the fridge as our cake. Mom, you get out the 3 and the 9 candles (She has a bad habit of telling me what to do—and of memorizing my age). So after dinner, Danielle presented me with a handmade card, her favorite mini-troll taped to it (“I didn’t make it to the store, Mom” she tells me) and as Daddy lit the candles, the girls turned out all the lights in the house. Then, gathered around the table, my family sang Happy Birthday to me.
And while we feasted on vanilla pudding (with sprinkles!) my newly acquired troll facing me, I thought of all the diapers and formula, the sleepless nights and of birthdays past. And I recalled those parents’ word of wisdom. And understood.
It doesn’t get any better than this.
*Letter to my Former Self, 2010: I was wrong. Sometimes it gets even better.