I am definitely not a parenting expert, but I did have the first baby in my group of friends, which means I sometimes get asked for advice on things like teething (frozen washcloth) or baby gear (don’t buy the wipes warmer) or screen time (I once swore I would only read books to my kids and restrict screen time to 30 minutes a day, hahahaha).
I don’t always have the best answers for people because parenting is both highly personal – what works for one parent might not work for another; what worked for your first kid might not work for your second – and because there can be such a gap between “ideal advice” and “what parenting actually looks like in the trenches.”
Still, though, as Ruby approaches her 10th birthday, here are 10 things I’ve learned about parenting over the past 10 years:
- Of all the things that stain – chocolate, tomato sauce, blueberries – nothing stains like banana. This was one of my biggest parenting surprises, probably because I have spilled a lot of things on my own clothes since I started doing laundry for myself but have never actually mashed a banana all over myself. But toddlers do frequently mash bananas all over themselves, and despite the fact that bananas are white, they will leave disgusting and hard-to-remove lacy brown stains on everything they touch.
- If your kids get lice (and they probably will), don’t take it as some kind of indictment on the cleanliness of your family. Don’t take it personally, don’t go crazy with the vacuuming, and don’t bother with the over-the-counter stuff. Get a prescription from the doctor, wash all the bedding, and buy new combs.
- When your baby first says “mama,” it will be the most beautiful word you’ve ever heard. Nine years later, when you have two kids both screaming for you all the time, you will want the word to be stricken from the lexicon entirely.
- You will surprise yourself. I don’t even really know how volleyball is played, but when I attended Ruby’s first game, I started yelling stuff like, “Good hustle, Bella!” and “Nice serve, Kate!” And when Ruby ran over to me after the game while all the players were shaking hands, I yelled at her, “Get your butt back down there and shake hands! Being a good sport is the most important part of the game!” It was like I’d entered a fugue state.
- You will find yourself doing ridiculous things without shame. I still sing the Wizard of Oz tornado music while I brush Georgia’s teeth because we pretend a tornado is sweeping through her mouth and getting out all the germs and “cavity bugs.” I dance like a fool in public; I talk in silly voices. I wear stickers on my clothes. Shame is pretty much a distant concept to me at this point.
- Privacy is also a distant concept. I quiz Ruby on spelling words from the bathtub; I frequently pee with an audience.
- Not much grosses you out anymore. I’ve wiped butts with food in my mouth and gone back to my meal. I’ve gone to work with snot on my clothes. I’ve let my kids spit unwanted food into my hands. Yesterday, another mom and I spent 10 minutes discussing a rash, complete with pictures.
- Your children will surprise you. One day they’ll hate anything that has even glanced at a spice; the next day, they will dump half a bottle of Crystal into their grits. One day they will think denim is the fabric of Satan himself; the next day, they will want to wear only blue jeans. Just roll with it.
- You’ll probably cry a lot more. I’ve always been a crier, but my God. Now I cry at everything. I cry at school performances. I cry at commercials about school performances. I cry when I see news about horrible things happening to kids who aren’t my own. I cry on birthdays. I cry when they get their vaccinations. I cry on first and last days of school. Tears are my reaction to basically any emotion since I’ve had kids.
- Parenting is absolutely a study in extremes. No one has ever frustrated me more than my kids. No one has ever pushed my buttons more. And yet, I have never loved anyone with quite this particular intensity. I yell, I hug, I cry, I snuggle – all in the space of five minutes.
And a bonus one to grow on:
- Watching them sleep never gets old.