This summer, we had the chance to babysit our nephew for a couple of days while his parents took a well-earned, albeit brief, mini-vacation. With our kids now well into their teens, it has been a solid 13 years since we last had a toddler in the house. God bless them, my brother and his wife managed to look past this and trusted me when I told them that “we’ve got this,” pointing to our 19-year track record of parenting, my husband’s M.D., and 4-on-1 defense with two teenagers on hand to help us corral a toddler and keep him entertained, safe, and happy while his parents were away. And we did alright … aided in no small part by the fact that my 2-year old nephew sensed our lack of recent toddler experience like an animal smells fear, and drew on every “big boy” ability he had at his disposal to rise to the occasion. In short: The kid went easy on us.
That did not stop my husband and me from high-fiving each other as we sat on our couch after we returned our nephew to his parents.
Those high-fives, though, were less about our ability to entertain a toddler for two days, and had more to do with the fact that we did this: We raised two kids. And while one child is still in the nest, and they each still are growing and learning, we have come a damn long way since the days of diapers and sippy cups. And those early years – as awesome and wondrous and filled with love as they were – were hard. And exhausting. And a sleep-deprived blur.
Nothing like taking care of a toddler to remind you of how far you, and your children, have come.
When I wrote about reminding my children to look back and reflect on how much they have grown and accomplished, I encouraged them to not only dwell on the big, flashy moments, but also on the little, almost indiscernible, everyday experiences that carried them to today. My brother (see parent of toddler, above) after reading the post responded by saying, “You know you actually were writing about yourself, right?” Um, no.
But now, admittedly, yes.
It is easy today to take for granted that if we get separated in an airport, our kids not only know how to get to the proper gate, they’ll probably beat us there. They know how to navigate a grocery store and fix a meal. They can hold up their end of a dinner conversation, and know how to seek information about the world and politics. And while their opinions and goals will move and shift as they advance into and through adulthood, fundamentally my daughter and son each know who they are at their core.
While, as parents, it is easy to look back and remember the big milestones: births, christenings, first birthdays, first days of school, holidays, first dances, family vacations, and graduations … the reality is that the little every day moments actually were what helped to shape who the kids are today, the parents my husband and I became, and the lessons (and there were many) that all four of us learned together along the way.
Times spent holding the kids’ hands in front of an airport monitor teaching them how to read it, and reinforcing (yet again) the contingency plan if we became separated.
The trips to the grocery store with them sitting in the basket and, later, letting them run “errands” in the store to find their way to fetch a loaf of bread on aisle 4 while I was still doing my thing in the deli section.
Working side-by-side in the kitchen to make cookies, weeknight dinners, or Thanksgiving staples.
Every meal when we enforced the “no cell phone and no TV” rule in favor of a discussion during family dinners.
Copies of newspapers shared, and nights watching (and talking about) the evening news.
This isn’t to say that mistakes weren’t made or that tears weren’t spilled. And, most assuredly, I know that there were better or easier ways to navigate some of the challenges during those early years. But, being reminded this summer of what being 2 years old looks like and comparing that to where our family is today … we’ve covered a hell of a lot of hilly territory and we’re all still going.
And that, surely, is worth a little high five.