As SB’s third birthday approaches, it brings with it another milestone. It’s almost three years since our lives turned upside down, and we went from being average university students – albeit one of us resembling a manatee with a giant bump – to first-time parents, basically making it up as we went along.
After three years, I can’t claim to be a parenting expert. I still bow down at the feet of anyone with more than one child (especially more than one under three – SB is getting a headstart on the “threenager” stage and it’s enough to make my ovaries clench and refuse to release any more potential babies right now), and those who seem to be “momming it” to perfection (although, as I said in a recent blog post, what you see on social media isn’t always what you get).
Still, despite my lack of parenting prowess, I like to do these posts occasionally – a sort of letter to my past self, with warnings and advice about what you’re going to face and how to face it (or, in many cases, how not to face it, garnered from bitter experience). I think as we approach SB’s third birthday and our third parentaversary (I feel like that is an occasion deserving of cake. It should be buy a birthday cake, get a parentaversary cake free. It’s like a normal cake but you have to share all of it with sticky grubby little hands because hey, you’re a parent), it’s time for another post about parenting’s greatest gift – hindsight.
In no particular order, Me-From-One-Year-Ago (or indeed, anyone else reading this), this is the advice I’d give you if I had the chance.
This is going to be a tough year. You’re semi-prepared for this – at least, you think you are. Pro tip: you aren’t prepared. Nothing prepares you for the terrible twos. Some days you’ll look at your shrieking banshee of a womb nugget and wonder who took your beautiful, happy little girl and replaced her with a screaming hell-demon. Sometimes she’ll be miserable, just because, and nothing you do will be right. The self-doubt will creep in, and you’ll scrutinise your every action, wondering where the hell you’re going wrong.
You’re not going wrong. She’s two. The world is big and scary and it seems to be getting bigger and scarier by the day. Her imagination is in overdrive; she’s so full of concepts and sights and sounds but she doesn’t have the vocabulary to voice all of them. She’s frustrated. She doesn’t hate you; she isn’t doing it to hurt you. Reassure her, and reassure yourself that you are doing fine.
At some point this year, you’ll be diagnosed with something that has affected you for your entire life, and you’ll get help for it. Then you’ll start to see the signs in SB, and be wracked with guilt for passing it on.
Stop feeling guilty. There’s no guarantee that you have passed it on. Even if you have, who is better placed to help her cope, reach a diagnosis and get help for her? Those four letters haven’t stopped you having a brilliant life; they won’t stop her either.
The old milestone dread will creep in, as you constantly question whether she’s slow at talking, slow at potty training, slow at this, that and the other.
Don’t compare her. She’ll get it in her own time, just like every other child. By her third birthday she will know the Team Rocket motto in its entirety, be able to name pretty much every Pokémon in existence and be capable of putting an Xbox controller in charge. (She’ll also know the alphabet in sign language, have written her name and make up beautiful stories, but I’m focusing on the priorities).
You’ll work full-time, and miss her so much your heart hurts. Then you’ll quit work to spend time with her, and long for just a five-minute walk around a supermarket without a two-year-old shadow following you.
Second-guessing yourself helps no-one. Your instincts haven’t seen you wrong so far. If you want to spend time with her, do it. Life’s too short not to. If you need to get away for a few minutes, don’t be afraid to ask. You need to retain your own identity as well as being “mommy” all the time.
You’ll question whether she’s watching too much TV; whether she reads enough; whether she gets enough fruit and veg every day; whether you’re making the right decision for her in anything you do.
Look at her smile. That is the smile of a child who is happy, healthy and loved. As a parent, that is your responsibility to ensure. You are doing your job right.
You’ll rush through the year; racing from one milestone to another.
You’ll think ahead to her milestones. Big birthdays and graduations and weddings.
Enjoy now, anticipate later. Don’t wish your lives away. You have years and years of fun ahead. Enjoy having her at your wedding; she’ll light up the day with her smile and love dancing the night away with you all.
You’ll watch her as she plays; her thoughtful, serious expression as she arranges her toys or colours (staying inside the lines better than you do). Her caring side shining through when she shares her biscuit with every teddy or dolly in reach. The imagination as she pours your ‘tea’ and shouts “NOT YET!” when you go to drink it before it’s ‘cool enough’, or wraps her teddies in muslin cloths to keep them warm when you’re out and about.
Get involved. One of the greatest joys isn’t in watching her play; it’s getting off the sofa and playing too. Have a tea party; feed biscuits to the dinosaurs; give Baby and Dolly their baths.
You’ll feel overwhelmed with love for your daughter, and pride in yourself for just how far you’ve come.
Keep doing that.