Because by now, I have clearly acheived “expert” status.
A few weeks ago, my baby bear turned four. Arguably, making her not a “baby” anymore. I struggled with this. Four seems like a big year. It was her golden birthday (She turned 4 on the 4th … apparently not many people know what a golden birthday is.) and it’s been hard in the past for me to be away from Minnesota on the 4th. It has always been a big deal where I’m from. Family reunions, clown bands, day drinking, street dances, flotillas, water balloon fights, fireworks, parades … ask anyone from Northern Minnesota what the best holiday is and without hesitation, the reply will be “The Fourth.”
But this year, being in Colorado with my people, was pretty great. We had an amazing time on her birthday, celebrating with birthday pancakes, water fights, backyard BBQs, fireworks and love. So much love.
As I think of how much life has changed in the last four years, I think about what a better person I’ve become. I’m surprisingly more laid back, more responsible (well, moderately more responsible – let’s not get carried away here) – but most of all – I’m back to being myself. There were a solid few years when I was not myself. I look back on those years and it’s a swirl of emotions and memories. When I re-read things I’ve written, it’s like I’m reading a completely different person’s words.
I’m grateful this baby bear helped get me back on my path. And with that, here are some hot tips I’ve learned along the way …
1. Be careful what you wish for.
Much to my mother’s amusement, my child is a tiny version of myself. (Which makes sense, if we look at the nature vs. nurture theory: assuming it’s 50/50; my kid is 75% me.) I vividly remember being 20 weeks pregnant, my relationship ending and thinking, “I hope she at least ends up like me.” Well, have no fear, because here we are. (Except that time she picked up dried dog shit and carried it around the block thinking it was bacon … that is most certainly not my DNA.)
Most people would think it would be fantastic having a mini me. A miniature edition of myself! How fun! No. It’s not. If you ever want a mirror into all the ways you drive people insane, have a kid who’s just like you.
2. I am an introvert.
Many people would disagree with this, but I have to clarify by saying I’m an “extroverted introvert.” I often go to concerts or breweries alone – people think this is because I’m extroverted and can make friends with anyone. False, it’s so I don’t have to talk to anyone. Having someone around me practically 24/7 has really highlighted my absolute need for solitude.
I’ve been known to take PTO to have some time, call friends crying because I need a break or, if nothing else, send her into the living room and put a movie in so she leaves me alone for approximately 144 minutes … because of course I don’t fast forward through the commercials/previews. (Parenting at its finest, folks.)
3. Few things are worse than parenting hung over.
There is a reason I rarely drink whiskey or vodka anymore. This is it.
4. Do what you love.
I have worked for two different organizations since having a kid. I am a vastly different person now than I was when I was a glorified bachelor party planner at a pretentious as fuck golf course. I have found that life overall is significantly easier when you have a job you love, but parenting with a job you love is critical.
5. I miss my grandma.
All the time. What would she think of Paityn? Would she think I’m a good mom? What advice would she have for me? As Paityn’s grandma, my mom typically sides with my kid – who can do no wrong in her eyes. I miss having someone on my side! (Not that my mom is NOT on my side … but relationships with grandmas are just different.) I miss her telling me I’m special and that it’s ok if I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. People say grief gets easier over time, but I feel that’s just something people say when they don’t know what to say. I find comfort in knowing she’s definitely still with me and that in some ways, I’m much like her.
6. It’s ok to cry.
I have a lot of feelings – no, I mean a lot of feelings. And sometimes that means I cry at random times. (Like holding my best friend’s baby or talking to an employee on my team about wanting to flex time so she can keep a promise to her daughter.) I have always been an advocate of showing emotions in front of my kid. I want her to see that emotions are normal, everybody has them and it’s ok to cry.
When life’s been hard, I have totally broken down in front of her. (Or, you know, watching Moana when I sobbed through 60% of it.) I feel that being open with my feelings has allowed Paityn to explain her feelings to me. She often tells me she’s frustrated, can identify she’s grumpy because she’s hungry and at times, knows she doesn’t even need a reason. “I’m just having a sad day, mom.” We’ve all been there, kid.
7. Learn to find the silver lining.
I’m fairly sure in a past life I was a serial killer, bank robber or a republican because life has shit on me a ton this time around. (Although it’s making for excellent material for my memoir … See, silver lining, people; it’s always there.) That being said, I am exceptionally skilled at finding the positive in any situation. This helps me in a lot of ways. One, I’m much more likely to just roll with whatever is served up. (I’ve come a long way from crying on the kitchen floor, drinking straight out of the wine bottle.) Two, it makes me a fantastic problem solver. And three, it helps keep my temper in check with my kid ruins something … again.
8. You do you; I do me.
I likely do not parent the way you, your sister, your mom, your neighbor or your teacher’s cousin’s half-sister does … my kid drinks coffee (decaf; get off me, people), has been to more concerts than I can keep track of, shouts “get out of the way, ya fucking dummies!” when we’re stuck in traffic (sorry, mom), knows babies grow in uteruses – not stomachs, sleeps in my bed more than she doesn’t, hasn’t ever had most junk food and reasons like a damn little adult. (Which is so frustrating: see #1.)
But it works. A key piece of my sanity is parenting the way I think is best. And that means me keeping my own personality intact. I bring my kid to yoga at red rocks, concerts, beer festivals, dive bars, hockey games, hiking … and basically anywhere I go that allows for children.
I have a weird style of parenting; I can admit this. And I am sure I get judged a lot (and to those people I say as I do to Paityn: watch your own bobber.), but it works for us. And that’s all that matters.
9. Being single isn’t so bad.
I dated a guy in college who told me I was a “monkey bars girl” – which meant I treated relationships like monkey bars – I didn’t totally let go of one until I knew I had a solid grasp on another. I was offended for quite some time about that comment. Until I realized how true it was. I’ve been single for 5 years (If not more, depending on what qualifies as a “relationship” in your book.) and I’m actually surprised at how much it hasn’t bothered me.
I’ve learned I can do things I never thought I’d do. I had a guy friend tell me once that my independence was a huge turn on and that it’s something he truly admires in me. (I’ve also learned to check my ego and just call a dude friend when I need to.)
Sure, I miss having an adventure partner – someone who makes me laugh, teaches me things and makes the days move easy. (Ok, I also really want someone who will do the dishes.) I absolutely want to get married and have another kid … but the feeling that something is missing from my life is not all-encompassing, as it has felt in the past. Now I’ve realized I don’t need someone to complete me; I just want someone to complement me.
10. Find your ohana.
I recently learned that in Hawaiian culture, ohana means family (chosen family and blood-related family). The concept of ohana – put quite simply – is to take care of your people. Families stick together, help out and remember one another.
I am an only child. My parents are divorced. My mom lives 1108 miles away. (I just mapped it.) And although my mom has helped me more times and in more ways than my ego cares to acknowledge (thanks, mom …), I still need more family.
Having a kid opens your eyes to the superficial relationships in your life. The ones where people say they’ll always be there or ask if they can do something to help … but never follow through. The ones where people bail on you, miss important events and generally don’t prioritize your relationship. And I don’t mean the casual friendships; I mean the friends you’ve had for years. It’s been incredibly disheartening to see this unfold before my eyes over the last four years.
However, it has also shown me who my real people are. These people are the ones who will drop everything, cancel plans, drive an hour at night and do almost anything to help Paityn and me. Even through difficult times and separation, they come back into your life. They are my ohana. And I couldn’t ask for a better family.
Parenting has been the biggest commitment I’ve ever made. (Breaking down my suffocating fear of commitment, one child at a time.) And it has been both maddening and gratifying. It’s also been one hell of a trip and I couldn’t imagine any other tiny adventure partner along for the ride. I truly believe we’re put into people’s lives for reasons and children and parents end up together to teach each other certain lessons. Touché life; well played.