Linda Stamper Boyne: Phasing through parenthood
Vail, CO, Colorado
My older son just had a birthday. He’s now 11 going on 17, dude.
On the day before his birthday, someone brought a little, itty-bitty, brand new baby to visit one of my coworkers. I immediately went into labor-flashback, the details of which I will spare you.
But while the small child was cute as a button, one look at the glowing-but-exhausted mother made me realize I’ve moved far beyond this phase of parenting. There’s no way I could go back there again.
Here’s my theory. As I see it, there are nine distinct stages of parenting: infant, baby, toddler, preschooler, kid, pre-teen, teenager, “adult” (as in, “technically and legally an adult, but not really”) and actual adult. These are divided into five phases. With each passing phase, it gets harder and harder to fathom the idea of going back.
When you’re a parent in the Infant, baby or toddler stages, you come in second behind the kids. Phase 1 is all about their schedule and their needs. It’s their world; you’re just living in it. And cleaning it.
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When you have a moment to yourself, you’re likely to use it to do such exciting activities as brushing your teeth or doing the dishes or, if you’re lucky, taking a shower. You wonder if you’ll ever get to use your brain in any real, useful way again. Your body aches from being a human people-mover/all things to all people. This is the most physically exhausting of the phases.
Throughout Phase 1, it seems you’re very focused on bodily functions. When was the last time he was fed? Did he burp? Why is he crying? Why won’t he go to sleep? Why hasn’t he pooped in three days? What did he shove up his nose? Is he ever going to be potty trained?
I remember distinctly the moment I moved from the toddler stage to preschooler stage. I was shopping in Denver and I suddenly realized that ease of stain removal was not my first requirement in a shirt. My primary concern was no longer spit-up or snotty noses wiped on the shoulder, sticky hands grabbing at the hem.
A whole new world was opening up to me. Phase 2, consisting only of the preschooler stage, is the briefest, but perhaps the most mentally exhausting of all the phases. The mental gymnastics required to outsmart the preschooler can do you in if you’re not careful.
You find yourself explaining everything and answering questions you really don’t know the answers to. You long for the good ol’ days of Phase 1 when you didn’t have to listen to chatter all day long. The inquisitive preschooler’s mind is working a mile a minute, busy discovering the world, and he now has the verbal skills to talk about it.
This is typically when things come out of their mouths that make you either laugh out loud or want to die of embarrassment. For example, two boys and their dad went shopping for their mom’s Christmas gift one December day. When the sales woman presented the wrapped gift, the older of the two boys said a polite, “Thank you.” The younger, who was 4 at the time and shall remain anonymous, followed up with, “Thank you, Sexy Boobs.” (Although mortified, the father did admit later that the kid was not wrong.)
I’m deeply into Phase 3 now, the kid and pre-teen stages. In my situation with boys, it’s again about bodily functions, but more about explaining why burps and farts really are not that funny, insisting that a couple of showers a week is not too much to ask and informing them that while Starbursts are described as “fruit chews,” they don’t actually count as a serving of fruit.
I’m apprehensive about venturing into Phase 4, the teenager stage, otherwise known as the land of hormones. From what I gather, Phase 4 most closely resembles Phase 1 in that it’s their world; we’re just living in it. And paying for it.
Phase 5, when they (hopefully) leave the house to go into the world, leaving my day-to-day role in their lives complete, seems like a lifetime away. But I know it’s really just right around the corner.
Linda Stamper Boyne of Edwards writes weekly for the Vail Daily. She can be contacted through firstname.lastname@example.org