A Forever First Time Parent

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I came to a rather obvious conclusion this week. Never, will I ever, NOT be a first-time parent. I don’t know why it took me so long to figure it out. I guess I thought first-time parenting was reserved for those poor sleepless souls who were still fumbling through parenting sites and boiling pacifiers every time they hit the floor. Nope, not me. I’m eight kids in and a card-carrying member of the “eh, she’s vaccinated… just wipe it off” club. I no longer hover over my kids’ beds to make sure they’re breathing. I don’t wince with every tumble, call the pediatrician with every fever spike, or guarantee they’ve eaten a vegetable. Chocolate cake for breakfast? Sure. Not going to fight that one. But, twenty-three-plus years down, I still don’t sleep. I worry more. I pray more. I cry more. Because the honest truth is this: parenting doesn’t get easier. You trade the diaper bag for emotional baggage, the car seat for car insurance, and play dates for prom dates. And, oh, by the way, the stakes are higher, sometimes it’s life or death, and a few things are irreversible. So there’s that.

Last month, we entered a season of change. Four, yes FOUR, of our eight kids graduated: two from college, one from high school, and one from kindergarten. (By the way, we never navigated that before, either.) And now, they are entering a world that requires new parenting skills from a mom who needs to be equal parts practical, relevant, supportive, reliable, and cool. I’m a silent safety net who can only give solicited advice and watch it unfold from the sidelines. I’m not going to lie. It sucks when your kids grow up. Rewarding? You bet. But the age of control is over, and an era of sideline coaching is ushered in. All of this is new, and I don’t know if I like it… yet.

It’s new to us to have a son in the military. I’ve been warming up to the idea over his last four years at the US Air Force Academy, but now it is real. I have never felt such strong patriotism and fear all at once. I have never had an independent child in grad school, navigating her own apartment lease, filling out her own FASFA, and holding down a part-time job (I’m clearly killin’ the game with that one). I’ve never had an anxious little pipsqueak. Anxious big kid, yes, but not little, so that’s new too. And the list goes on and on.

Statistically speaking, I thought repetition was in my favor. What are the odds I would need to figure out how to do everything all over again eight times in a row? Granted, I DO have a few things on lockdown.

Velcro and zippers: our kids don’t leave the house without knowing how to handle it independently (you’re welcome, kindergarten teachers).

Bedtime: it’s a ballpark estimate based on my capacity to handle them and their capacity to handle me. I’m not going to stress about one more thing to which I can be late.

Homework: not negotiable, I’m a teacher-mom, so they’re stuck on that one. But, I also reserve the right to consider an assignment stupid. With a couple of degrees under my belt, I can discern what is worth the midnight run for poster board and what isn’t.

Holidays: Go big or go home. Life is way too short not to celebrate big. It’s also a great way to smooth over all my parental “opportunities for growth.” The law of averages… A few failures + a few mom-of-the-year moves (divided by total trials) = passing parent grade.

But all the rest of it? I’m flying by the seat of my pants every.single.day. So, in the end, I guess the message is this: There is always going to be something new. What isn’t new is me. I get better each time I step up to bat. I’ll stare down a few curve balls, swing at a wild pitch, strike out, and hit home runs. I may never face the same situation, but I get better with practice. I handle the losses better; I learn to appreciate the wins as they come. And the best part of it all? No matter a winning season or a losing one, parenting is one job from which I’ll never get cut. I just need to keep showing up. And they’ll love me because I’ll always remember to pack the snacks.

Bonus parenting tip: In congruity with the whole team metaphor, skip the matching “uniform” thing by about age 12. You’ll strike out every time!

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