This afternoon my spouse and I went for a bike ride together.
We biked down the road, from our house, and then parked our bikes and walked along the side of the mountain. Then, we laid down and soaked up the sun, just the two of us.
There was a time in our lives when this was a common occurrence. When most days we went for a walk or a ski or out for coffee or a drink. We went where we wanted to, when we wanted to, clueless to the knowledge that those moments would disappear from our lives for over a decade.
The parental highs of early childhood are the best. The birth itself, first teeth, first steps, the cuteness of toddlerhood, the explosion of language, and the excess of creativity. Watching a child explore the ins and outs of the world for the first time is exhilarating and exhausting.
Anyone who has a new baby or any child under the age of four years old, and especially if you have a few, I send my love and empathy.
The sleepless nights, the never-ending laundry, the constant disaster of a house and the sheer physical demands: breastfeeding, carrying infant car seats, carrying toddlers, being poked, prodded, bitten and kicked. It’s a lot.
Sometimes it feels like too much.
It hurts our minds and it hurts our bodies and sometimes I wonder; why did I have children in the first place?
And then they hold our hand and say, “I love you.” Or we see them sleeping and their cute little faces are too much to bare.
But still, we are tired, worn out. We think—how will I get through tomorrow?
And, somehow, we do.
A grandparent takes them for the afternoon and we catch up on dishes or our child has an extra- long nap in the afternoon and, if we are smart, we take a nap, too.
But, then something changes. It takes a few years, but it comes.
This is what I’m here to tell you.
Sometime after children turn four or five years old, things start to change. No longer is there a risk that if you turn your back for a moment too long your child may die. For the first three years of life this is a true risk.
A young child can choke, run into a road, fall off a slide; they are clumsy and unaware of their environment and as their parent it’s our responsibility to ensure that they are protected. This is the plain truth.
That is why, as parents, we walk three steps behind our toddler everywhere they go, barely able to go pee without worrying that they’ve destroyed themselves or their surroundings.
But, what I realized, on that bike ride earlier this afternoon, is that this isn’t my reality anymore.
My son just turned 12 and my daughter is almost seven and without even having the childcare, that is school (they home-school) I can feel the freedom.
In the mornings my children make their own breakfast, no one wakes up in the middle of the night and they even help with chores. The house isn’t a disaster, they don’t dirty multiple sets of clothes a day and I haven’t changed a diaper in five years.
I don’t carry anyone anymore and my kids can play outside safely for hours without needing supervision. They go on sleepovers, play happily with friends without needing any intervention, are generally great people to be around. Yes, they fight, as siblings do, and argue with me and need driving to way too many places, but it doesn’t feel so hard.
I feel like I can catch my breath.
I have come over the hump, to the other side, and because I was there for them when they were newborns and when they were one and when they were two they have grown into children who feel that their world is safe and easy to navigate and I find it easy to watch them live in this world.
That’s what I want to tell you, dear parents of young children, it does get better.
The end is in sight and I know you’ll make it intact.
You’ll barely remember the exhaustion and the biting and the kicking. The sleepless nights will be embarrassing anecdotes and the shenanigans of toddlerhood will be fine memories and what you’ll remember most is the hand-holding and the I love you’s and the cute little faces while they slept.
So, hold on tight, get as much rest as possible and I’ll see you on the other side of four years old when you’ll be able to look up after a good night’s rest and see what an amazing being you’ve helped to raise.
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Apprentice Editor: Ashleigh Hitchciock/Editor: Rachel Nussbaum