Reality Check with author Roseanne Cheng
At three and a half, and over six months of accidents, non-compliance, and frustration, it’s official. Aaron is potty trained. (Want to know the secret? There isn’t one. Kids will stop crapping their pants when they’re good and ready. So throw the books away and deal with that as fact.) And to make matters even… more… he’s finally decided to use his monkey-like powers to climb in and out of his crib. So daddy is taking the front of his crib off today, giving him his first ‘big boy’ bed.*
*Yes, at three and a half. I have held on to the crib with bloody fingernails with both of my children. I’m all about containment, people.
It hit me, last night, that these two momentous events are proof that we have exited the baby stage. My babies aren’t babies anymore. They aren’t toddlers. They’re… what is the word for this age? I’m leaning toward ‘big little monkeys’.
It is impossible to compile everything one learns while being a mother. Especially in the first years. I keep thinking back to all the advice I got during my pregnancies, both solicited and unsolicited. Some of it was so spot-on, so important, that I feel I owe money to the person who gave it to me. And some of it… well… some of it I wish I had ignored. So here’s my list of baby-truisms, for whatever they are worth.
1. Take as many pictures and videos as you want. Videos especially.
Every few months, an article goes viral about how we need to turn our phones off and be present with our children. They are reminders that we are social-media junkies and time-wasting jerk-parents. Of course, some of that is true. Turn off the phones and play with your kids. But for all the times I’m grateful I’ve done that, I’m equally grateful for the times I’ve pulled the phone out to take a video. When my kids are teenagers and hate my guts, I have a computer full of videos to keep me happy.
2. It’s okay to not love the baby-baby phase.
Full, true confession. I really struggled—a lot—through the infant stage. Breastfeeding was so difficult for me and brings back unpleasant memories. Recovering from a vaginal birth, recovering from a C-Section… not fun. Doing those things on no sleep while feeling chained to the house… especially not fun. For the longest time, I’ve felt like a bad mom for not loving that time, especially when so many people told me to cherish every moment. Every woman is different in this, and it’s okay to know that. I prefer pants-pooping toddlers to wailing newborns, and that’s just the truth of it.
3. Beware the parent wearing rose-colored glasses.
Something happens to a parent after their child turns about five, and continually gets worse as the child grows. They forget, black-out, or otherwise choose not to remember the truth of things. They say things like, “My first born never cried! I swear! He was a perfect angel!” And you, the new mom who hasn’t showered in three days, comforting your wailing three-month-old, want to punch that person in the face.
I’ve caught myself doing this, too. It’s a survival mechanism. “Anna was a much easier baby,” I’ll say, comparing her to Aaron, when the truth of the matter was that she didn’t sleep, cried until she made herself puke, and refused to feed herself until after she turned one. It’s the same reason women forget the pain of childbirth—survival of the species. But I wish someone had told me that when I had little, little babies and thought I was losing my mind.
4. People’s definitions of things vary WIDELY.
As I have complained often, loudly, and for many years, I didn’t sleep for a very, veeeery long time. There were a few good ’bouts here and there, some lasting more than a few days, but for the most part, I didn’t sleep. THIS MADE ME INTO A PSYCHO CRAZY PERSON.
To this day, when someone brags about their six-week old who sleeps through the night, I get pangs. Violent ones. But I have realized over the years that people define ‘sleeping through the night’ very differently. According to the myriad sleep books I read, ‘sleeping through the night’ means a six hour stretch, somewhere around the month-two month mark. That could be 9:00pm-3:00am. Or 7:00pm-1:00am. Do you see where I’m going with this?
I am a normal human being, who defines a decent night of sleep as 10:00pm-6:00am. If my kid is awake at 1:00am and up every hour until 6:00am, THAT AIN’T SLEEPING THROUGH THE NIGHT.
Same applies to a child being a good eater, or an easy traveler, or potty trained. People define those things very differently. Quite frankly, I can’t wait until the day where I say something like, “oh, my kids were pretty good sleepers”, and actually mean it. It will mean my rose-colored glasses are firmly in place, and probably will not move for the remainder of my existence on earth.
5. The right thing to do is what works for your family.
A friend gave me this advice at my baby shower, and oh, how true it is. True regarding the day-to-day logistics of life, and true regarding the overarching job of creating a working family unit. I have luxuries many mothers don’t have. I also have challenges many mothers don’t have. So the choices I make must be what works for US, and not what a book tells me should work for the life I don’t have.
And this, more than anything, is the advice that sticks with me now that my babies aren’t babies anymore. A woman in her thirties can easily figure out what works, logically. She’s probably a master at juggling schedules, multi-tasking, and keeping everyone else happy. Well, at least alive. But the challenge is taking the family unit we created—whatever it looks like—and accept it for what it is. Accept it, and then embrace it with gratitude.
Read more awesomeness from Roseanne Cheng and Teachable Lit and check our her Young Adult novels The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High, and Edge the Bare Garden. Your 10-15 year old will love these books.