Being a parent brings a constant roller coaster of surprises, challenges and wild truths about human nature. Here are three of the biggest parts of parenting that have been surprising and amazing me lately.
1. They are who they are.
Parenthood is like watching a Polaroid develop over years and years, with the core of our children coming more crisply into view.
Before I had kids, I could only imagine vague little people who would have traits echoing the best of my husband and my characteristics. I believed strongly in nurture versus nature.
But now, I feel strongly that our kids are born exactly who they are. When I remember the violent kicks and rolls my son tortured me with throughout late pregnancy, I can recognize his iron-strong will. The fussiness when he was an infant? His sensitivity. He was already who he was—not simply some genetic stew of my husband and me, but simply, purely, gorgeously himself. And my greatest task as a parent isn’t to mold him into a carbon copy of myself, or even to make sure he values what my husband and I value, but to help him maintain the bright spirit he already is, while not staining him too much with my own neuroses.
Parenthood is like watching a Polaroid develop over years and years, with the core of our children coming more crisply into view. In the beginning, our babies might seem like blank slates, but I think they’re already there, just waiting to come into focus.
2. Everything’s temporary—even their biggest obsessions.
It hurts to grieve the versions of themselves they leave behind.
Even as they’re born with their own unique, perhaps fixed personalities, our kids’ interests shift over time.
For almost two years, my son was infatuated with "Star Wars." The majority of our conversations hovered around why Anakin Skywalker made bad choices or whether Obi Wan or Qui-Gon Jinn was a stronger Jedi.
I’d be tucking him in at night, and he’d say, “Mom? Can I ask you something?”
“Of course, honey. You can ask me anything,” I’d say, hoping I’d have a satisfying, appropriate answer for what was surely to be an important spiritual question.
“What color is Jabba the Hutt’s penis?” he’d ask.
“Umm—probably greenish brown?” I’d stumble.
Then, one day last fall, he spent the afternoon watching a football game with my dad and husband. With no warning, he suddenly morphed into Football Guy. He still held a fondness for "Star Wars," but football became his primary focus. “Where does Tom Brady live?” he’d ask at bedtime.
I found myself nostalgic for "Star Wars," for questions about Luke Skywalker’s robotic hand and Darth Maul’s privates. Not because I personally missed Star Wars, but because he had just loved it so much, for so long. In trading in one passion for another, it felt like I was losing a part of him.
As parents, we hold in our heads and hearts all the past versions of our children—the way my daughter’s eyelids used to flutter as she nursed to sleep, or how my son used to carry around a little jar of cinnamon when he was a toddler—and it hurts to grieve the versions of themselves they leave behind. The consolation is getting to see the next version of them that unfolds.
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3. They bring out versions of ourselves we didn't know existed.
I felt exhilarated, as if I could do anything.
In elementary school, I was the kid who was usually picked last for team sports. Graced with both an uncoordinated body and a deathly fear of balls hitting me in the head, gym was my least favorite subject.
And yet yesterday, at the not-so-tender age of 42, I jogged around a football field with my son, attempting to score a field goal. When I miraculously punted his football over the field goal, I felt exhilarated, as if I could do anything.
“Yeah! I’m Mom Brady!” I hollered to my smiling son as I did a little dance.
Until very recently, I didn’t know what a field goal was, and had never even held a football. If not for my son, I still wouldn’t have. While it’s not my passion, it’s fun to know that I can still surprise myself. Yesterday I learned that deep within me lurks a tiny Mom Brady—and I have my son to thank for that. We’re charged with teaching our kids so much about the world, but sometimes, perhaps often, they teach us instead.