I can’t tell this story without talking about poo. There you go. That’s your warning.
It was Christmas Eve, and my daughter, gussied up in a long pink dress and tiara, was perched on a small plastic potty. You know the kind – low to the ground, portable, no water in the bowl. Easy for a toddler to access. Three days without an accident, these were exciting times in potty training.
I crouched in front of her, for encouragement and anything else she might need. “It’s coming!” she shouted joyfully. Understanding your body is a pretty big deal.
“Let me touch your hair,” she said, patting my head, bringing me closer.
Now, there’s no polite way of saying this, really, but she was having some success in the BM department, and she was pretty proud. “I’m doing it!” She was gleeful. “Now let me fix your hair, mama.”
Pulling me in, she gently patted my cheeks and looked deep into my eyes. She drew her small hands through my bangs, softly stroking my hair and pushing strands behind my ear with her fingers. And all the while, she pushed my head down, towards her lap, towards a large and very stinky poo.
It occurred to me this moment was a metaphor for parenthood. Affectionate and wretched all at once. The balance shifting moment to moment, and often over utterly ridiculous scenarios.
The duality of parenthood has surprised me
Until I had my own children, I couldn’t comprehend the constant contradictions. The enormity of the love, the deep exasperation. The magic of discovery and learning, the questionable tantrums. My daughter squealing with delight when she holds an icicle for the first time is followed immediately by a tantrum over a tissue.
It’s draining to swing from emotion to emotion, ricocheting like bullets from sad to exalted to silly to desperate, all in the span of just a few minutes. These conflicting emotions – from both my children and me – coexist, so that it’s all happening at once. I want a break but I don’t want to miss out. I love playing house but I’m bored out of my mind. I want them to sleep but I also want… Okay, if it’s bedtime I just want them to sleep. I knew parenting would have its challenges but I didn’t realize how much tension the days could hold.
So that moment, with my daughter’s soft hands in my hair and her milestone mess in front of me, sums it up. This is parenting, messy and sweet, filled with pride and tenderness and a bit of stink.