Parenting, it ain’t for the light hearted

Going into parenting, I was a nervous wreck.  I got pregnant young, almost too young to be a parent.  I was an adult, but only just barely.  Looking at my 17-year-old son today, I cannot imagine him becoming a parent in a couple years, like his father and I did.  I was a wreck somewhat because of our ages, but mostly because I had no idea what the hell I was doing.  I was going to be responsible for another life.  How was that going to work?  I still could hardly separate colors successfully and not turn white underwear pink.

I was given this awesome book, ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’.  I read it cover to cover 3 times before I ever laid eyes on the kid growing in my stomach.  Then, when he came I read ‘What to Expect the First Year’.  Again, I read it cover to cover countless times.  I was ready.  I was prepared.  Turns out there was no way I could turn him pink during bath time (well, except that one time with the bath paint, but let’s not go there).  We were good.

I went blithely through colic and the toddler stage to preschool and then had a couple more kids along the way.  I was becoming a pro at this.  I was raising three kids and no one turned pink again.  We taught them ‘stranger danger’, how to escape during a fire, where to go if they got lost, code words for people claiming to be sent by us, and all the likes of parenting 101.  Parenting magazines were a Godsend during the younger years and we thrived as a family.  We read advice columns, we exchanged ideas between our friends, and we relied on the past experiences our parents had and combined them all for super parenting, like a superpower.

All those years, all those books and not one time did anyone mention what could really hurt your kid.  Adolescence and hormones.  I didn’t read anywhere about what to do if your child experimented with cutting.  I didn’t get any advice about what to do when your child withdrew and started listening to questionable music and wanting to dress in all black.  Nowhere in those books did I read what to do when your sweet children are replaced by kids full of eye rolls, blank stares, deadly stares, exaggerated sighs, unanswered questions, phones glued to hands, and mood swings that would make even the scariest roller coaster jealous.

Cellphone etiquette wasn’t listed in those books, either.  Sure, we made rules as we went, but this isn’t something that was an issue during our upbringing so we were just winging it.  There was no parenting book that told you exactly how to handle apps and social media and sexting.  There’s no ‘What to Expect’ about those things.  We try to be reasonable parents, trusting parents.  We take lessons friends have learned and parents have learned and we try to apply them as best we can.  There are all types of parents out there.  I know parents that are too lax, I know parents that over-parent, I know parents that try to be somewhere in between, and I know parents that seem to have all the answers and they just seem to do it right.  However, then I learned those parents, the ones who appear to have it all together and have parenting as their superpower are just as scared and are going through just as much as the rest of us.

Maybe there’s no ‘What to Expect’ book out there for adolescence because no one really knows what to expect.  No one has mastered it well enough to write it all down.  There’s no way someone can prepare for your child to admit they’ve been a “cutter”, there’s no way to prepare for your child to make a decision to share intimate images of themselves to someone on the internet, and there’s no way to have all the right words and all the right actions for things you never thought could or would happen.  I’ve learned that as a mom I just have to admit when I don’t know what the hell to do and then I have to rally with other moms who are experiencing the same thing.

In my advice and edition of ‘What to Expect’ during adolescence, I will say this – expect everything and befriend the parents of your children’s friends.  They are your only hope to getting out of this alive….well, them and a nice big bottle glass of wine.

With respect,

The sadness in his eyes breaks my heart and when his smile doesn’t fully reach his eyes, one of the best parts of his smile, I know. I know something is wrong.  Still, I welcome him home after a long 12-hour shift and make his plate for dinner.  He has in tow a box of donuts for the kids’ breakfast in the morning, a bottle of my favorite wine, and a 4-pack of his favorite Dogfish beer (not a beer to take lightly with its 9% content).  These things don’t often happen, you see.  I can count on one hand how many mornings the children will have donuts for breakfast as it’s a very special occasion treat that we give them.  He mentions how The Little recently spoke fondly of his love for sprinkled donuts and there it was, that sadness in his eyes deeply rooted.

I made meatloaf for dinner, a favorite of his, and he eats it with an obvious heavy heart.  There are often times when his shifts do not go well, which I presume is the case for all EMTs and Paramedics, and sometimes I’m not sure I want to hear what tragedies he has had to endure.

He continues to eat and I ramble on and on about insignificant wifely and motherly duties I’ve done or dealt with throughout the day.  A typical Sunday for me, my biggest complaint is that of annoying children visiting ours for play-dates.  The television is on, more so in the background than for us to watch, but on the screen is a tribute to an actor who passed away this year and I see his eyes well up.  It’s alarming and breathtaking.  I’m nervous.  What could make him cry, especially since he doesn’t often do it?  In 20 years I’ve seen him cry only a couple handfuls of times.

I ask him what’s wrong and the pain I see on his face, deep in his eyes, shutters me to a stop and I know.  It’s a child.  Whatever horrible day he has had on his ambulance today, it involves a child.  He tells me it’s nothing, though we both know it’s a lie.  He tries to protect me from the horrible things that he sees knowing that my nerves/anxiety and irrational fears often cannot handle it.  I have to be strong, I have to be supportive.  He reminds me there are people with whom he can speak.  I find comfort, always, that he has a support team but today I can see he needs someone now.

I ask a few questions and slowly he begins to talk.  He goes through the last part of his shift, how he thinks he’ll be called in early, how he’s talking lightly to another medic who’s off today.  Then the call comes in.  It’s the worst kind of call and yes, it’s a child.  (I won’t go into details out of respect for the family and for my husband, but I will say the baby was not breathing when they got on scene and it’s a horrible accident that happened at their home)

The husband recalls the scene, what transpired, what he can see now that he’s left it, recounts things that maybe should have been done differently – though in truth there was nothing that could have been done to change the outcome.  He sobs and my heart shatters.  I cannot fathom this loss; I cannot understand the terror and hurt of not being able to bring back such a young life.  We cry together and I hold him tightly, words escape me.  There’s nothing I can say, there’s nothing I can do to soothe him.  It’s one of the most helpless feelings I’ve had in quite some time.  So I just cry as he cries and I pray.

I continue to pray for him while he tries to come to peace with what happened.  I pray for all of the first responders, for I cannot be more grateful of their gift and place on this earth.  I pray for the little one whose time ended entirely too soon, and for the family from whom the baby was taken.

This post, it may not mean anything to anyone, but this man, this husband of mine is one of the greatest souls I know.  We’ve been through some trying and very difficult times in our marriage and we’ve come out better because of them.  Nights like these remind me of how special a human being he is, how courageous and precious he is, and how very lucky I am to have him as a husband.  Being a wife of a first responder, an EMT in my case, is both prideful and heartbreaking.