I always thought of myself as an emotionally stable person. And then I had a baby.
BY EMILY BOSS
Special to the VOICE
The fierceness of parental emotions first struck when my child was less than a week old. Do you know about the medical community’s time-honoured tradition of the three-day-old check up?
First, they find a new mother who is swimming in unfamiliar hormones. If she can barely walk upright, all the better.
They tell this hormonal being that it’s imperative she take her brand new, helpless, tiny human—the one she’s not quite familiar with transporting yet—to a place where sick people congregate. I’ve heard they’re awarded bonus points if the woman is required to lug her baby in a bulky carrier up a flight of stairs.
Conscripted into the game, I sat, tired, sore, and nervous, in the unfamiliar doctor’s office with my daughter, as perfect as she was beautiful. I was contemplating the unbelievably obedient, kind-hearted and well-mannered nature of my own baby, when suddenly another couple’s inexcusably curious spawn began to approach.
I watched in horror as this unfamiliar human, who looked suspiciously like a plague carrier, made his way unhindered to where we sat. I glared at his parents. Surely they would rein-in this terror. Instead, these moron parents were smiling, actually encouraging their creation on its journey.
“Be gentle,” they cooed, as if my baby gently catching smallpox would be any consolation.
Thankfully, the little beast’s name was called before he could extend his chubby arm towards my darling, and he menacingly toddled off with the nurse, taking his presumed case of Ebola with him.
It was then that the realization hit me: new mothers are only three, maybe four sleepless nights away from turning up on Canada’s Most Wanted.
I used to cringe at stories of parents getting way too involved in the outcomes of little league games, or parents who couldn’t let kids handle their own on the playground. I still cringe of course, but now it’s less, “How could they DO that!” and more, “That could be ME one day!”
We are now five-and-a-half years in, and baby number four is set to arrive in February. Yet still these tiny humans in the house are constantly extracting emotions and reactions I didn’t know I had.
While it’s a fact I no longer fear toddlers in the doctor’s office (was I too hard on the little guy earlier?) it’s also a fact that my kids keep finding new situations to test my commitment to not being a nut-job.
It’s not pleasant to quietly observe from a distance while awful five-year-old girls refuse to take proper turns with my flesh and blood. Of course, sometimes she doesn’t either, but she’s only five, for heaven’s sake.
And should I really set up another play date for my son with that two-year-old who is so clearly on the fast-track to becoming a hardened criminal? Is that boy’s continued involvement in our lives really worth sullying the childhood of our great nation’s future Prime Minister?
Things can get out of hand in a hurry.
One day, you’re just telling the neighbour girl to stop being so bossy with your kid, and before long you’re screaming at the T-ball coach, getting kicked out of a game where they don’t even keep score. At least that’s what I tell myself will happen when the urge to get involved pops up.
I’m well aware of the fact that the issues my kids face right now are not going to determine their chances of success. I know, too, that I don’t really want my kids to go through life having other people sorting everything out for them. It’s the working-out of issues that produces perseverance; it’s the perseverance that produces character.
In the moment it’s easy to see only the short-term. It’s easy to focus on the “best hat” prize your daughter could win with a little design help from you, and ignore the longer-lasting satisfaction she could have of accomplishing something on her own.
It’s tempting to want to forgo the effort involved in constantly encouraging a three-year-old boy to look people in the eye and say thank you to the nice lady at church who gave him a gift. And, for me, it can seem borderline impossible to force myself to be present with them, right now, when it’s eight in the evening and I’ve been with them all day and they just came out of bed for the 13th time and I just want some time alone for goodness’ sake. (Perseverance. Character.)
We are all on the same character-building journey. And though I like to believe I’m at least a bit farther along than my five-year-old, since having kids I’ve realized I’m not near as far along as I thought.
It’s easy to feel strong when there’s no resistance. But feeling strong and being strong are obviously quite different. So while it makes me uncomfortable to suppress my more over-zealous mothering instincts, I take solace in the fact that I’m building someone better. Someone stronger. And, hopefully, someone who won’t be ejected from the stands at T-ball. ◆