Parents of small children: give yourselves a pat on the back. You deserve it.
I recently returned from an absolutely wonderful trip visiting my big sister who lives 5 states away. My husband held down the fort with four kids at home so I could go meet my new nephew. Daddy did a wonderful job following all of my detailed “don’t forget!” notes about the kids and house, and he kept everything running smoothly. It was a wonderful gift for me to have some time off and spend quality time with my best sister friend, fun brother-in-law, and two sweet nephews.
My sister and I have an interesting history. We played together as children until our brother was born, and then turned to fighting over him.
The worst were the high school years when I looked up to my big sister but wasn’t welcome in her circle. I couldn’t let that go so I became the annoying little sister who would exaggeratedly yell “hello sis!” in our crowded high school hallway if she tried to ignore me. I think the worst thing for her was when our teachers called her by my name–wasn’t that only supposed to happen to the younger sibling?
In college things were easier, and then after she graduated she immediately went into the Peace Corps and I found I missed her terribly. We became pen pals and great friends. My sister came home to be my maid of honor and then left to complete two years of Peace Corps service in Eastern Europe. For the first time, I cried when we said goodbye.
After Bud, my second, was born my sister flew out my way and helped me by grocery shopping and cooking up delicious meals for my family. I was hoping I could do something similar for her, and I think I succeeded. Although she did more of the cooking while I helped impart some of my treasure trove of secrets after having four kids. It was a wonderful few days spent soothing her tiny boy, walking the dog, interacting with my smart, articulate older nephew, and enjoying downtime watching movies and playing board games with my sister and her husband. An unforgettable trip!
When I got home, it only took a day for my sister and I to get back into our routine of lengthy phone conversations. As we discussed the trip, she told me she realized some things about me when I was there. She talked about my confidence in baby-handling. She said she appreciated how I often took charge of the situation, such as when the baby was still crying at 12:30am and I walked into the room with the two weary parents and told them to go to bed. I calmed down their son and he slept for three hours, the first three hour stretch of sleep they’d had since he was born.
Before this trip, I never would have described myself as confident or self-assured.
While we discussed the events, I tried to put words to the thoughts swimming in my head. Just before we talked, I had dealt with Kyle’s refusal to eat his applesauce packet. He swatted it away from me and it ended up all over my shirt. The night before as I was getting out the milk to refill Kyle’s cup, he reached over and swatted the cup off the table, splattering the remains everywhere.
As I fumbled through the words, I explained that I was able to be confident in her environment not because hers is easier necessarily, but that it is more straightforward, at least from an outsider’s perspective. When I was at her house, I could consider every scenario from my suitcase of knowledge and apply the best practice that had worked for me.
In my environment, I see each situation through a cloudy haze of uncertainty.
One day I can get Kyle to eat his applesauce by setting an ipad in front of him. The next day while he has the ipad in front of him, he refuses the applesauce. Every day I am coming up with new best practices, because every day I need to find another method that will work for each situation. And you know what? It’s exhausting. And I am running out of ideas.
The long weekend with my sister was a great boost to my self-confidence, and it made me realize I don’t often give myself enough credit. I don’t think any of us parents do, no matter the number of children or their individual needs. So, dear sister, thank you for the pat on the back. I needed it.