Riding the rollercoaster that is parenthood

By | Published Thursday, May 6, 2010

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A matchbox car. A gum wrapper. A straw wrapper. A one-dollar bill.

That’s what I pulled from my pockets yesterday as we wound down the day. I wondered aloud when it might be that I wouldn’t find matchbox cars in every pocket, purse, bag, and cubby hole in my life. My friend off-handedly remarked that it would happen eventually, and then I’d wish I was breaking my big toe on Jeff Gordon’s miniature car door.

Parenthood is a roller coaster – no doubt. That is the only way to describe this journey of growing, nurturing, sheltering, teaching and loving these little people. A ride that begins slowly, gradually inching up an incline with the sleepless days and nights of a newborn. There is time to think about the upcoming adventure. There is time to not only wash clothes, but to PREwash them, in special detergent. There is time to carefully examine every frame, lamp, blanket, washcloth, and stuffed bear that will be a part of your baby’s room, your baby’s life. There is time to grab your spouse’s hand in excitement, anticipation and overwhelming anxiety. There is time to think and to dream. At the crest of that first hill, it’s easy to catch a glimpse of the amazing possibilities ahead.

And then the ride really begins.

Before you know it, the ride pushes and pulls you from one side to the other. Up, down, up, down again and again. Softball practice, laundry, potty training, baseball practice, vacuuming, dinosaur models, playgroups, piano lessons, more laundry, daycare, dusting, church meetings, choir practice, birthday parties, soccer practice, PTA meetings, mopping, field trips, even more laundry, lunches, haircuts up, down, up, down. It’s dizzying. It’s exhausting. It’s exciting. It’s even a little scary. Right now I’m smack in the middle of the ride; my hair is flying violently in the wind, and I’m looking around frantically trying to catch my bearings. I have no idea what’s around the next corner. My hands are clutched onto the bars in front of me as the cart tears around every bend in the track, every curve of the hill. Our days are so busy with activities, chores, meals, timeouts, and … piles of dirty clothes, that life seems like an endless list of checkpoints, of checkmarks on a list. Sometimes it doesn’t seem as though there is breathing time, let alone careful preparation for singular moments or events. Forget prewashing: sometimes I wash only the clothes that are actually visibly dirty. Forget moments of silence, moments of daydreaming, moments of examining the possibilities to come: it’s grin and bear it time. It’s hang on, scream at the top of your lungs, and ride it out time.

But, there are also moments when the ride stops suddenly, making us halt, letting the inertia of our bodies rattle our brains into submission. It’s during those times that we look around again at our surroundings, take note of our origination as well as our destination, and realize that, while we might be enjoying this ride, while we might be surviving this ride, we aren’t really savoring this ride. It gives us a second to breathe, adjust our seat, prepare for that long ascent to the top of the next hill, and brace for the jerks and jumps that might come our way again.

I know I’m still at the beginning of this roller coaster; I’ve watched friends and relatives as they’ve white-knuckled their way through this whole parenting thing. I know it’s only going to get faster, rougher, and bumpier, but I’m strapped in and ready to go.

Writer Robert Brault has been quoted, “Parenting is a stage of life’s journey where the milestones come about every 50 feet.” And, tonight, as I emptied another matchbox racing car, a plastic Easter egg, some loose change, and a dirty sock from my purse, I thought about those milestones. I have no clue why or how those items find their way into my purse, just like I have no clue what’s around the next corner of this roller coaster, but it’s where I am; it’s what I signed up for at the park entrance – tiny, little Jeff Gordon and all.

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