“Once they were through the gap, they had only to keep on in anything like a straight line and they were bound in the end to strike the Road. Their thoughts did not go beyond that, except for a vague hope that perhaps away beyond the Downs there might be no fog.” -Fog on the Barrow-Downs, The Fellowship of the Ring
Early on in my parenting journey, there was a stage at which things were just really, really hard. My sweet baby sometimes took a while to settle at night, leaving me exhausted and yet hopelessly wired at bedtime. We had diaper leakages and incessant spit-ups, leading to far more extra laundry than even I had anticipated. It was a grueling time, and it lasted forever, or so it seemed.
In fact, the really stressful post-partum era, as characterized by sleep deprivation, insurmountable laundry, and weird health quirks, probably only lasted a couple of weeks. It wasn’t long before I discovered that a few things in my diet were causing the excessive spit-ups; I realized that I needed to switch diaper brands; most importantly, the bedtime angst seemed to resolve itself as we settled into a good routine. Life became serene and blissful.
But it was not to last. Just when I thought I had things figured all out, circumstances changed on me. We hit a fussy period, which turned out to be teething-related. Our restful baby stopped sleeping through the night, which I finally just chalked up to a growth spurt. In fact, “growth spurt” quickly became our universal explanation for any deviations from prior experience which couldn’t be explained or resolved any other way. Appetite increasing? Growth spurt! Appetite decreasing? Growth spurt! Change in nursing habits? Growth spurt, of course!
This cycle of challenge, adapt, acclimate, and face a new challenge has repeated itself throughout our parenting journey. It wasn’t just a function of navigating the uncertainties of young parenthood; it’s a reflection of the constant ebb and flow of life. Just when I grow accustomed to our new normal, something changes.
I remember hearing from more experienced moms, when I had two small children, that the little years can be the hardest. Veteran moms with large families, juggling multiple ages and teaching grades, would assure me that as challenging as large family logistics might be, the most difficult time is when the oldest is still too young to be much help. That certainly resonated with my experience! Having a baby and a toddler was without a doubt the most challenging and stretching time of my life. Although I was blessed with relatively easy children who had (mostly) sweet, mellow personalities, I was often overwhelmed with the simple logistics of managing two little people while running a household. Inevitably the toddler would get into something or require a diaper change while I was nursing the baby. I would dream of the time when I had a competent older child to hand the baby off to so I could run off and deal with an emergency.
During the more difficult times, my standard “coping” answer to any queries on how we were doing was something along the lines of, “Well, we’re going through a bit of a rough patch right now, but I’m hoping we’ll turn the corner soon.” Often I felt like Frodo and his companions, stumbling through a foggy mist with only the bright prospect of eventual relief to bolster my spirits.
When our third baby came along, the extreme chaos and stress that I’d feared might accompany life with three little children never materialized. Instead, my two older girls ended up being great companions for each other while I was able to tend to the baby. Having a baby in the house made the older ones feel more grown up, and that’s about when their involvement in family chores really took off. While it was a bit of a steep learning curve to bring their work up to acceptable standards, it was an investment well worth the time. And it has continued to pay dividends to this day.
It hasn’t all been clear sailing since then, of course. Job loss, times of sickness, financial uncertainty, and other factors have all taken their toll. But we’ve weathered the tough times, and always turned the corner in the end. Right now, in fact, life looks pretty serene. We’ll see how long this quiet spell lasts before there’s another bend in the road.
Photo Credit: All photos taken by Rose Focht, Edits and graphic design by Charity Klicka (c) 2015