Midway

By Beck

I know a lot of women expecting their first babies right now (like, NINE. What’s up, my fecund friends?), and so I’m surrounded by one of the things I find funniest in this whole world: expectant first-time parents. That combination of idealism – horribly misplaced idealism – and bravado and high, unrealistic expectations always sends me away snickering, knowing all the ways that they’re wrong and that they don’t know yet.

Of course, my oldest child is only nine.

I’m pretty good at some parts of parenting now. Just the other day – and you have NO idea how many different ways I’ve tried to work this casually into a post, so it didn’t seem too braggy – anyhow. The other day, I was hanging out with The Baby at the library, and someone told me that I seemed to enjoy my kids so much, that I really seemed to like spending time with The Baby. And I do love spending time with her – there’s not anything about spending time with a three year old that I find daunting or frustrating or hard or boring. (I promise that I’m almost done bragging.) I have three down pat.

Nine, though?

If your child is still just a baby, nine seems pretty old, I’ll bet. A lot of them are even starting to sprout up, to start looking more like people on the edge of puberty than fresh-faced toddlers, but spend any time with them and you’ll hear their bravado, their weeping arguments, their serious discussions over things like So Santa Isn’t Real, But How About That Tooth Fairy? (argument for her existence: there’s no way her dad would hand over $20 regularly like that.) And so they don’t seem all that old once you get there, if you’re paying any attention at all.

But the teenaged years are obviously just around the corner, just up ahead and starting to come into sight. My Girl wants to know how far her boundaries are now: how far can she go by herself, what can she do, where can she go? Romance is starting to blossom amongst her classmates, like the following story of l’amour:

Her friend Kensington and her classmate Zebediah were “in love.” But then Kensington saw Zebediah eat a sandwich out of the garbage can and did not like him any more, and Zebediah found out that he and Kensington were “in love” and did not like her any more. And thus endeth the greatest love story of our time.

And as funny and as muddle-headed as nine year old romance is, there still is the haunting knowledge that someday it will be replaced by the real thing. My husband keeps threatening to open a gun cleaning business on our front porch to ward off the prospect of that ever, ever happening, while I’m more interested in joining a much more strict church, the kind that bans all dating altogether.

Then there are the risks that I took as a teenager and that haunt me now. How do I raise kids who are smarter than me, who can make it safely and unscathed out of their precarious teen years, step onto the shores of adulthood and make their own lives? I dunno.

What I do know now – and it’s not a loud proclamation, but a modest statement – is that I don’t know what comes next. Maybe someday, someone will compliment me on how comfortable I am with my 9-year-old Baby, and I’ll just laugh, knowing that the comfort was earned, knowing how hard we worked to figure out everything with our older kids. But right now, I have the rather poignant knowledge that at nine and a half, my oldest child is past the mid-way mark of her time at home, that our time with her is fleeting away and the knowledge of how little time we have left to help steer her right. This knowledge has erased the last vestiges of my idealism and left me with this strange other, this humble desire to be good enough.

Oh, hilariously enough, each expectant couple that I’ve spoken to has said that they don’t expect their upcoming babies to change their lives that much. Obviously, this is very, very funny, and at the same time I envy them their complacency, their certain expectations that things will be easy and the beginning of their voyages as a family. Oh, the things I would do differently, I think wistfully, and then get back to the practical, day-to-day business of doing things wrong right now.

Beck writes at Frog And Toad Are Still Friends.

34 Responses to Midway
  1. mom.huebert
    January 22, 2009 | 10:59 am

    Oh, the things I would do differently, I think wistfully, and then get back to the practical, day-to-day business of doing things wrong right now.

    How well you sum up the way I felt when my kids were growing up, a feeling I never put words to before. And I’m doing the same thing right now, even though my oldest is 26 and my youngest turned 18 two days ago. How DO you be a parent of a married daughter? And live-at-home adult sons?

  2. His Girl Amber
    January 22, 2009 | 11:05 am

    My husband and I about went into a fit of hysterics once when our later-in-life-pregnant friends told us how they are so sick and tired of hearing how TIRED parents of newborns are, that they (our friends) don’t even require THAT MUCH sleep, and that they intend to make the child learn how not to be so selfish by making her fit into their world. HAHAHA. oh, that was awesome.

    When my son was hovering at the brink of teenhood (he’s halfway through 13 now)I remember noticing that I felt like I was an expectant mother. I was nervous and worried about the care and feeding of a teenager. What was missing was the bravado. The prior 12 years had taught me how much I do not know, how quickly time flies, and how you cannot expect to be a professional at parenting, for it’s all so unpredictable and hard.

    I did know, though that I was ‘sick and tired’ of hearing about how parents do not like their teenagers, and I purposed in my heart not to vow arrogantly that I would not, but that I would try very, very hard to find enjoyable moments and traits.

    Yes, it’s only been 6 months, but so far? I really do enjoy having a teen. He’s funny, and smart, and independent-er every day. I pray that I can say that for a long, long time…. and I suspect you will be able to as well.

  3. Marci
    January 22, 2009 | 11:07 am

    Nice post! I’m so perplexed about expectant parents not thinking life will change…I’m due with my first in 3 weeks, and I know nothing will ever be the same!!

  4. Chantal
    January 22, 2009 | 11:12 am

    I love talking to first time parents and hearing all their expectations. At first I used to try and convince them that it would be totally different. Now I just smile and nod. That “Love Story” is hilarious.

  5. Kyla
    January 22, 2009 | 11:30 am

    I find that even though I’ve already been through it once (up to age 6) with BubTar, much of it is completely useless in dealing with KayTar. They are two kids from very different molds and it is often like being a first time parent all over again. Except, there is no What to Expect book for kids like KayTar.

  6. Nowheymama
    January 22, 2009 | 11:45 am

    I was JUST talking to a woman about her son’s upcoming 13th birthday at a gathering the other evening. All of us with 7- and 8-year olds were looking at her in wonder: she is going to be the mother of a *teenager*! What will that be like?

  7. Mama Bub
    January 22, 2009 | 12:10 pm

    I can remember weeping after Bub was born “Why didn’t anyone TELL me?” So to those people who say your life doesn’t change? Ha. Ha ha ha ha ha.

    Of course, know I’m a know it all mother of a toddler who is sure my child will be potty trained by two, reading by three and doing his own laundry by age four.

    Ha.

  8. crazymumma
    January 22, 2009 | 12:35 pm

    nah. Having kids doesn’t change ones life a bit.

    ahahahhaha.

    My elder is drfting into the teen years. She is still so much a child.

  9. suburbancorrespondent
    January 22, 2009 | 1:10 pm

    I know this is slightly off-topic, but – twenty dollars? Are you folks off your rockers? Do you know how many teeth those kids have?

  10. Veronica
    January 22, 2009 | 1:14 pm

    Liked it so much I kirtsied it.

  11. Veronica
    January 22, 2009 | 1:16 pm

    Also, a friend of mine once said, “Yeah. Some men’s lives don’t change all that much. Until ten years later his wife won’t put up with him anymore and she leaves him. Then his life changes a lot.”

  12. Heather
    January 22, 2009 | 1:32 pm

    Seriously? $20? I hope that’s $1 per tooth and not for one tooth!

    The first baby didn’t really change our lifestyle much actually. We were pretty boring to begin with.

  13. Candace
    January 22, 2009 | 1:34 pm

    My husband and I knew when we had our son life would change a lot. It did but at the same time our son seemed to mesh well with our lifestyle pretty well. My husband and I like to get out and run around on the weekends and what do you know our son wants to go “bye-Bye” all the time. His words not mine.

  14. Nicole
    January 22, 2009 | 1:39 pm

    I had a friend who told me that when his baby was born, he and his wife would continue to do the exact same activities, just with a baby. I’m giggling now just thinking about it. Rock climbing! With a baby in a backpack. Fine dining! With a baby silently in a high chair. Hee hee.

  15. Anita Jo
    January 22, 2009 | 2:17 pm

    As usual, you’ve got such great perspective on parenting. My oldest is “only” 6-1/2, so we’re just now making that transition from little kid to school-aged kid. The tween/teen years seem distant, but the thought of them already gives me palpitations. Just so you know, my working plan is just to keep reading how you navigate the uncharted waters ahead and follow your lead. (No pressure.) 😉

  16. Subspace.beacon
    January 22, 2009 | 2:31 pm

    Kensington? Zebediah? You’re yanking my chain with these names, right?

    I think you’re being optimistic about her leaving home at 18 — says the woman who lived with her mumsy till age 23. Those $20 visit from the toothfairy might be great incentive.

  17. kate w
    January 22, 2009 | 3:15 pm

    This is a brilliant post, Beck.

  18. Heather of the EO
    January 22, 2009 | 3:46 pm

    My oldest is only the age of your baby–the big three. But I do still think about this A LOT. When I was pregnant with him I really thought I would have the first ever utopia household of perfect parenting. I didn’t know I thought that, but I totally did, looking back. I quickly learned that it’s so impossible to do pretty much any aspect of it even remotely perfectly. I swear these kiddos will teach me MUCH more than I will ever teach them. Parenting makes me realize how truly UNgrown up I really am. And I’m bracing myself for the years when they’re older because I know it gets harder in many ways. I LOVE it that we have a tendency to forget a lot of the hard stuff. I’ve already almost completely forgotten how awful all that sleep deprivation of the newborn stage is. It was hell, but now I can dilude myself enough into looking back on what was good, and that brings me a wee bit of hope that I’ll someday believe I did at least something right 🙂
    Is this an essay? Is this a blog post? Am I writing a book? Is this a college thesis paper? What’s my problem? I can’t help it, you get me thinking…but I’ll stop now.

  19. Jennifer
    January 22, 2009 | 4:01 pm

    The statement made by your friends strikes me as quite unbelievable. Wha? How do ya figure it WON’T change your life? I see catastrophic fall dead ahead.

    But only in the best possible way. 🙂 A big fall is good for the soul, periodically.

    I spent years of parenting trying to avoid all the errors of my childhood and adolescence, whether mine or other people’s. Then it began to dawn on me that in trying to protect them from THIS, they were going to experience THAT instead, because they are human and they are alive in a world where pain and confusion and mistakes are inevitable.

    And the older they get, the more I realize (with a mixture of relief and pain) that they are growing out from under me. More and more they stand as individuals with their very own experiences of life from which to learn wisdom and kindness and COMMON SENSE and all that other stuff we need to get along in the world.

    When they were little, I could manage for them, a good bit of the time. I could offer them my own experience and they could learn from that. I could protect them. I stood in for them with friends, at school, and even before God. For a short while. And now… well, we are learning together. And we are ALL being changed by the experience.

    I just think it’s a cryin’ shame, though, that we have to go through so much in order to learn any small amount of wisdom – and then we have to take most of it with us when we go.
    I wish I could open up their little heads and pour it all in there, everything I’ve learned (precious little though it seems sometimes!)… but it just doesn’t work that way, blast it all.

  20. PastormacsAnn
    January 22, 2009 | 5:36 pm

    I, like you, am still doing the three year old thing with my baby girl (and I’m trying to enjoy it more)

    But I’m trying 16 at the other end! 16! and driving herself around, and spending her own money that she earned at her own job! Ugh! I just woke up a last week and realized that in just a couple of short years she’ll be gone – off to her own life, whatever that may be. 2 years!!? Where has the time gone.

    Cherish it Beck. No kidding that it’s fleeting. 16 years ago I had no idea. No idea how it would change my life or me.

    Great post Beck! (as usual)

  21. Becky
    January 22, 2009 | 6:34 pm

    Yes, I know for sure that I don’t know whats in store for me. My oldest of four is now seven. I do two year olds really well. 😉

  22. Rosebud & Papoosie Girl
    January 22, 2009 | 8:25 pm

    Beck you are right on the money of course! I often chuckle when first time expectant parents say stuff like that and I vividly remember being one of them. No baby of mine was going to disrupt my life! Ha. and more Ha.

    As baby number three fast approaches I will feel lucky if I am remember what these early years are all about and hopefully this baby will benefit from hard earned knowledge of five and eight.

  23. Hannah
    January 22, 2009 | 8:44 pm

    Wow, they really say that? Hilarious indeed. When pregnant with my firstborn, I was petrified by how much life would change. It was all that and more. 🙂
    The first is always the pioneer, isn’t (s)he? Always the object of maximum parental angst. I’m sure you’ll weather the storms just fine. And if not, there’s always the Baby to give you another chance.

  24. Omaaha Mama
    January 22, 2009 | 9:00 pm

    So I’ve been trying to work some of this into a post of my own lately but can’t for the risks. I would never want to hurt my friend. So will hog your comments here to get it off my chest! I have a pregnant friend who’s having her first baby. I’ve been very surprised and disappointed with myself at how annoyed I am with her. We work together, so spend full days together. The six baby showers. The constant chatter and fear. The $1000 nursery furniture. The ultra trendy 10-page registry. The panic over every side effect. As if I have to be annoyed because she’s doing it so differently from me and because I’m so past that phase in my life. I’ve been praying to be more tolerant, inwardly. Of course on the outside I’ve been nothing by gleeful and supportive. I just can’t believe how nasty I feel sometimes, when I’m rolling my eyes on the inside.

  25. Omaaha Mama
    January 22, 2009 | 9:01 pm

    BTW – My mom, who raised three of her own (girl, boy, girl), says that nine is one of the hardest ages. Just sayin.

  26. Carol
    January 23, 2009 | 10:02 am

    I’d give you a bunch of stuff on how to get your kids through their teen years, but the truth is – just like the couple you describe, thinking a baby won’t change their lives – there is absolutely nothing I can say that will prepare you for what’s ahead.

    Just do your best and pray your way through.

  27. Anitra
    January 23, 2009 | 11:07 am

    Wow… maybe this just confirms how strange I am, but I don’t think I had that kind of high expectations when I was pregnant. I was mostly petrified of how MUCH things would change, and how hard it would be to be a parent. How would I get by on so much less sleep? I’m such a heavy sleeper, what if I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night when I needed to? How to change a diaper, feed a baby, HOLD a baby? How to get any time to myself at all? What if I didn’t even LIKE the baby? I didn’t want to spend every day at home.

    She’s four months old now. Yeah, things changed a lot. But not nearly as much as I feared. (Although I never imagined that sleeping past 6:30am would feel like the height of luxury.)

  28. Heidi
    January 23, 2009 | 11:10 am

    I also laugh at the idea of a baby not changing your life much and the other things you pointed out.

    I definitely know that I am not a pro at parenting past preschool age!!!!

  29. Minnesotamom
    January 23, 2009 | 1:44 pm

    My husband thought the same–somehow having a new baby wouldn’t “mess up” his schedule, take any time away from his video games, or cause any difference in our marital life.

    Oh ho. Ho ho ho. No more late night walks, no more eating out without fuss (though she was really good in restaurants for her first year), no going anywhere together ALONE without a sitter (and we don’t have any!). It’s different, it’s hard, but it’s fantastically wonderful.

  30. Cyndi
    January 23, 2009 | 6:15 pm

    I love to hear people without kids or expectant couples talk about their future children. “My kids will never…” Oh, yes they will! You will go back on everything you ever said. You will give your baby something that fell on the floor and forget to wash the baby’s face and loose your temper. It happens to everyone. I just try not to laugh until later.

  31. bea
    January 23, 2009 | 6:35 pm

    Wow, where do these sanguine moms-to-be come from? I was reading Between Interruptions, that anthology of essays about motherhood, and so many of them said exactly the same thing: Mom-to-Be is confident that the baby will not change anything about her life, then dramatically learns otherwise.

    I went into Bub’s babyhood thoroughly warned and prepared that everything was about to change. You might think that made things easier, but in a way it didn’t: nobody told me that a lot of the stuff that changes in those first few months of infancy actually changes back. You DO get to eat hot meals again; you DO eventually get to see a movie in a movie theatre. The biggest surprise, in a way, is how normal life is now – partly because I’ve adapted to the new normal, and partly because the very brief window of baby-craziness has closed.

  32. Erin
    January 23, 2009 | 10:56 pm

    Ohhh! You are making me tear up over here. My only baby is 8 and growing up waaay too fast! We adopted her at 6, so we have only had 2 years with her as her parents, but I can’t believe how quickly she has grown. 🙂

  33. Jennifer, Snapshot
    January 24, 2009 | 1:36 pm

    Yep — I hear ya.

    I like 4 (and 3) as well, though it can be frustrating, it seems more manageable than 9 (or 10, in my case). 10 is full of surprises. I’ve done the preschool years and early elementary years, but this is all new and will continue to be so.

    Friends of mine were just talking today about the challenges of 12, and 17 — totally new territory for me.

    Speaking of friends — you talking about having NINE friends who are pregnant with first babies now — NINE? Well, it downplays the introverted tortured artist image I have of you.

  34. corey
    January 26, 2009 | 3:14 pm

    From my blog….my memories..

    memories of the way we were……..
    Posted on May 27, 2008 by tcgodzwa
    I remember at my wedding, my aunt Gail, peering into the video camera, leaving her “memories” for me forever encased on a VCR cassette tape – she grinned and said with a tear in her eye “Corey, I can’t believe you’re potty trained”…….

    I recall sitting there in semi-shock, watching this….not quite understanding the full ramifications of that statement…. now here I sit, a few years under my belt and the weight of that comment still lingers heavily in the air… I realize how fast time passes, how little we take that into consideration, how much time we squander and how few moments are truly cherished in life.

    This week marks a milestone in our lives…it is not just the end of May, or the end of the school year, but my little boy, this little 7 pound 8 ounce boy I held onto so dearly almost 12 years ago is finishing elementary school……he is going to Middle school in the fall. Now to many of you, you may sit there and giggle and grin at this thought, thinking to yourself, “oh she doesn’t know what she talking about” but in the wee morning hours, I see the beginning of the end. Not in a bad way, mind you, but knowing that Josh is growing up so quickly, before my eyes, and to blink or turn my head is to squander a memory of him. A sixth grader then high school and then…………gone……

    Perhaps I’m jumping the gun, but I have seen these past 11 years whiz by me at such a unbelievable speed that I am speechless, I watch my son, my baby boy, my little one as he runs away from me…..stepping closer into man hood and farther from his mother. Sure, I’ll always be needed for something, but does laundry really count?? I cherish the hugs, and the “i love you’s” for fear that all too soon they will evaporate into the morning mist. At some point all children are repulsed at the idea of publicly touching a relative… let alone a hug or kiss…

    I watch that boy, that half man, so childlike at times but then I see the glimmer of the man he will be…and I wish inside that I could for a moment, take him in my arms, hold him as i did on that day he was born, kiss his little lips and tell him hello for the first time……just one more time……

    I pray that Joshua will grow into a man that makes not only me proud, but God proud. I pray that he finds a good Godly wife someday (far far away…) and that he has the honor of holding his first born and his second and how ever many God blesses him with… and I pray that one day, when I am old and can’t find my teeth or my hearing aid, that I look up and see this sweet face and know that I am loved, that he still finds my corny jokes funny and still says he’s his mama’s boy…

    memories, like a blanket so warm……. I pray they never fade away.

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