The hardest phase

When Julia was a newborn, people were constantly telling us that things would get easier. Julia would sleep better. She would eat solids, and I would be freed from constant nursing, and we would figure out a routine.

And we did. In the first several weeks of Julia's life, Scott and I started getting ready for bed at 8pm, and were asleep by 10. That's how long it took to nurse, shower, nurse again, change diapers, nurse more, move Hops and his litter into a cloistered room, worry about whether Hops would get out and smother Julia, and finally fall exhausted into bed. And yes, that was hard. But when I look back at those days, it is amazing to me how simple life was. Caring for a newborn was physically hard, and it was exhausting, but it was simple. We nursed. We slept. We changed diapers. I marveled at each new noise, each new movement, and our first autumn passed in a sleepy, simple haze.

Julia was a mellow baby. She started sleeping through the night at nine weeks, and slept twelve hours per night for the following nine months, until it all fell apart, but that's another story for another time. She was amazingly easy for me to read, and for awhile, it felt like we had a weekday routine that worked well for both of us. I ran almost every day, Julia strapped into the BOB stroller, Kenai at my side. She napped for a few hours per day, allowing me to cook and organize and read and breathe before starting our afternoons together. I felt sane. I felt like the best version of myself.

In these memories, I know I am forgetting what was hard. I'm sure that's partly a survival tactic; as parents, we edit out the hardest parts, and remember what is good. And certainly, things have gotten easier. I can leave Julia for hours (and once, days) at a time. Julia adores her babysitter. We do fun activities together, and Julia is great company most of the time.

But yesterday, as I talked to one of my friends, who also has a toddler, I heard myself saying something that I think I have been saying ever since Julia woke up from her sleepy newborn days: "This feels like the hardest phase." Transitions have become almost impossible, and what is fun one moment is met the next with a resounding "no!" Naps have disappeared; potty training is nowhere on the horizon. And as I watched our two toddlers negotiate sharing toys, figuring out how to socialize, I realized something that has certainly been true for me: parenting gets easier, but it doesn't get less complicated.

I have always prided myself on my ability to remain calm in stressful situations.

Tsunami hits in Alaska while I'm guiding a group who has no idea what they're doing?

It will be okay.

Car breaks down on the side of the highway, and my phone is dead?

I've got this.

Flight is delayed and I have a crying 7 month old baby?

Fine. But parenting a two and a half year-old brings out a side of me that I have only seen rarely (probably most frequently when I taught middle school...): an irritated, frustrated version of myself.

Yesterday, on a sunny afternoon with two toddlers playing in the dirt, my friend and I lamented the days of loading sleepy kids into strollers, when a snack cup full of cheerios would be enough to buy us an hour of chatting and exercise. And I realized that, just as Julia is changing every day, it's time for me to shift my perspective. I may not get long stretches of alone time right now. A walk around the block may take 45 minutes, instead of 15. But rather than continually be surprised by the twists and turns of two and a half, I need to anticipate them, plan for them, breathe through them, and shrug and brew a pot of coffee when we have a 5 a.m. wake-up. This may, indeed, be the hardest phase, but digging in my heels, clinging to my idealized versions of Julias past, is not going to make it easier.  I don't want to miss the sweet parts of this phase: Julia telling Scott and me how much she loves us. Watching her jump on a trampoline for the first time. Baking together on long winter afternoons. Because when I look at her--really look--the Julia of the present is pretty amazing, too.