It Gets Better?

It Gets Better?

One afternoon a couple of weeks ago I was accompanying my two-year-old son on a trip to our neighborhood playground. We pass a set of tennis courts on our way, and a mother was watching her tween daughter take a lesson as we walked by. A few minutes later, we passed her chair while headed in the opposite direction. Seconds after that, we passed her again. This went on about a half-dozen times because, as mentioned, my child is two and his favorite activity these days is Repetition. I glanced sheepishly up at the mom at one point and she smiled back.

“How old is he?” she asked.

“Two,” I answered.

“Don’t worry,” she replied. “It gets better.”

A day later, I was checking out at Trader Joe’s when the cashier, eyeing my toddler in the grocery cart, encouraged me to enjoy these days because they pass in the blink of an eye.

“This really is the best time,” he said. “You’ll look back one day and miss it.”

WHICH IS IT?! I wanted to scream at both of them. MAKE UP YOUR MINDS!

As those of you who have read my contributions here at TWR know, the only unsolicited advice I like is the kind I give publicly. When other people offer their brand of wisdom without my asking for it, the implication is that they are smarter than I ama possibility I ruled out a long time ago. Not to mention that the act of a stranger appraising my life from all angles after a minute-long interaction is justwell, creepy.

Add to all that the ambivalence involved in being a working-turned-stay at home momto a child who has faced a unique set of challenges latelyand you have a gallon of inner turmoil generated by these well-intentioned advisers. Are these toddler years the stepping stone to better days ahead, or am I not being grateful enough for the gifts of these early years? Having just come off a weeks-long period of struggle with my son and his post-surgery recovery, I’ve definitely longed for the clock to speed up lately. Now that he’s out of pain and more focused on perfecting his tantrum skills, I’m willing time to pass for different reasons. It all led me to sit in front of my computer and pull a Carrie Bradshaw.

I had to wonder: why do we always want to either rewind or fast-forward the clock?
Gif via

“What if this is as good as it gets?” Jack Nicholson’s character asks his fellow waiting room occupants in the film of the same name. I’ve found myself considering that question latelybut not out of hopelessness. It’s more that I want to recognize the good stuff, rather than resent today’s difficulties or fear a future without today’s joys. So I took a couple of hours while my kid drifted off on his daily nap, sponsored by Benadryl and whiskey, to consider the unmatchable merits of this particular season of our lives. This tantrum-peppered, muscle spasm-sprinkled, surgery-prefaced, hospital-filled, puke-drenched season of our #blessed lives. Or as I like to call it, N.O.W.: Not over. Wine? Are you facing a N.O.W. period in life? Then read on!

1. When my son was suffering from post-surgery-related muscle spasms, the only thing that seemed to calm him down was lying on his stomach and sucking his thumb while I rubbed his back and shoulder. Often, I joined in with the thumb-sucking. You know a great place to do this? On the couch, in front of the TV. So all television rules (and let’s get real, we haven’t really devised any yet other than to occasionally ask, “Is the TV on too much? Maybe let’s turn the TV off, I guess?”) were suspended. Now, these “breaks” were occurring several times an hour for about three weeks, which can add up to an erratic schedule and nothing ever. getting. done, but there’s something to be said for a fire drill that goes off every fifteen minutes and sends you to a comfortable spot in front of a screen. Granted, I tried to gear most of our viewing toward the toddler palate, which meant that I had to endure countless episodes of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, but every now and then I pressed Play on Mom’s DVR and caught up on Downton Abbey or sampled E!’s “Ladies Who Lunch” marathon episodes of SATC. If nothing else, the kid will grow up with a Women’s Studies-level knowledge of Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha, and Miranda. You’re welcome, society.

2. Times of struggle are an excellent opportunity to put off the day-to-day tasks building up on your To-Do List that you wanted to avoid anyway. In my case, it’s not likely that my kid will learn to drink through a regular cup anytime soon. And potty-training? SURELY YOU JEST! I consider the faux plastic latrine I bought on sale at Babies ‘R Us to constitute at least three months of the Desensitization Technique I am currently fabricating, I mean, trademarking. Basic skills can wait; let’s make it a week-long stretch without nighttime puking first, yes?

3. On the blessedly blasé side of things, as my kid has begun to feel better, he has settled into his two-ness quite comfortablymeaning that from toothbrushing to nap-taking, everything is a battle. His favorite foods (and by favorite I mean willing to look at without screaming) change daily. (He’s basically now on a diet of bagels, cheese puffs, and milk.) Changing his diaper has become an exercise in leg-dodging and voice control. The upside? I’m really learning to be assertive. Sheryl Sandberg was talking about leaning into people’s faces, right? Because with my 1-2-3-clap-clap-clap method, I’d say I’m getting about a 25% compliance rate, which I’m totally adding to my LinkedIn profile under Skills. Boardroom, here I come!


4. Finally, back to that repetition thing: A big chunk of our outdoor time (which, by the way, is the only place where the kid is constantly happy) is spent covering and re-covering terrain. While walking over a stretch of asphalt with his tiny hand encircling my finger the other day, I had an epiphany: This is boring as hell. Sadly, it may have been my first complete thought for the day, in between the face-cleaning and butt-wiping and tantrum-calming. I didn’t go to six years of grad school for this, people. It’s tedious, monotonous, trying work, and I don’t feel very suited to it much of the time. But yesterday, as we climbed a series of steps for the fifth effing time and I felt my temper flare at the sameness of it all, I looked down and saw an expression of pure joy on my child’s face. And all the repetition and bugs and other-people-trying-to-be-friendly-when-I-have-made-it-clear-that-I-don’t-like-other-people just melted away in that moment, because I realized what I was witnessing: a tiny miracle. Not just the learning-to-climb part, but the part where my cautious little introvert is taking risks and making little leaps of faith and gaining confidence and growing as a person and every time I think about how I could be watching E! or checking my phone, I AM MISSING IT. So no, this isn’t what I went to school for. But also? They don’t teach this in school, the value of these million tiny moments and the miracles hidden inside them and the fact that it’s my hand he’s holding while he does this. A hundred times a day. Seven days a week. Over and over. For the love of Almighty God.

And somehow, it doesn’t get better than that.

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