The push and pull of parenting

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Jen and Jackson

Earlier this month, we were thrown a curveball: someone in Jackson’s class at daycare tested positive for COVID. With Jackson running a low-grade fever and us having to wait at least five days to even sign him up for a COVID test, we were thrust into spring 2020-level anxiety. While we awaited the test (disclaimer: negative!), our weekday routine was also back to that of last year — ratcheting up the wild mood swings of parenting emotions to new levels. 

Here’s how our daily routine went during our isolation: Jackson rises anywhere between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. Ashlee heads off to work and I try to get him to use the potty (usually with a chorus of “Nooo, not coming out!”). I give him a few options for breakfast and he inevitably picks one, then, after realizing what he picked, picks another. Then it’s about a half-hour of “Jackson, eat your breakfast” on repeat while we watch “educational” truck videos on YouTube before teeth brushing, car crashing and dog walking. I made a bucket list of things to do that week — a scavenger hunt, painting, a drive-through car wash — all of which are punctuated with struggling with Jackson over putting his shoes on, taking a potty break, taking his shoes off… you name it. 

Lunchtime is another round of fighting over food before naptime, in which almost every day Jackson would go number 2 a few minutes into it then spend an hour singing his ABCs and trying to climb out of his crib. The afternoons bring more dog walks, making bouquets of daisies and dandelions, and coaching Jackson through his first chaotic trips on his tricycle. Throughout the day, I try to sneak moments of work on my laptop or even locked in the bathroom on my phone as Jackson bangs on the door screaming “Mommy, play!” 

Jackson

As any toddler parent can relate, 2-year-olds have one speed: go. Jackson sometimes literally bounces off of walls (he was running from our kitchen to the living room the other night internationally crashing into furniture and yelling “boom, boom, boom” as all of our breakables shook). A full day of trying to keep up that speed is enough to have most parents wishing for a respite. All week, I was looking forward to our hopefully negative tests and the moment I could drop Jackson and his little schoolbag off at daycare for a few hours of sanity. 

When that day did arrive, I gleefully ran around packing his bag, feeling like yelling “It’s Coronation Day!” (for “Frozen” fans out there). But, on the drive to school, my jubilant emotions rebounded: The song “Forever Young” came on the radio and — yes, it’s cliché — but it felt like the telling soundtrack for the moment. During all the hectic moments of the previous week, I was wishing for some peace, quiet and normalcy to get back to work and our normal routine; now that that was happening, I was already missing the time we wouldn’t be together. 

I was thinking about the items on our bucket list yet to be checked off — finishing planting grass in our backyard, creating suncatcher art the Easter Bunny left him — and feeling guilty that I’d wished those moments away. While I know the stress surrounding this time in our lives was in part fueling these divergent perspectives, I think it speaks to the emotional spectrum parents face daily.

Parenting is so many competing emotions all at once. One minute, you can be moved by your kid’s ability to empathize while the next exasperated by their inability to listen. You can be sad about how quickly they’re growing up while simultaneously inspired by their progress and developing talents. You can be annoyed by their incessant singing and right after amused by their antics. You can be proud of their burgeoning language skills while mortified of how they’re using them. (Jackson ran through our neighborhood the other day with his arms open screaming “butt” over and over.) While you may feel frustrated by their struggling with a task, the second they get it that is immediately replaced by joy. Experiencing all of these emotions at once is not only exhausting, but — if other parents are anything like me — it can make you feel a little crazy. 

So, when I was vacillating between excitement about life getting back to normal after our COVID scare and sadness at losing my forced down time with Jackson, it was a familiar feeling for me — and probably akin to how Jackson often feels. Toddlers are brimming with wild emotions: Any parent can tell horror or hilarious stories about the dreaded turn from laughing to crying, or the inane reasons that have caused their little one to lose their minds.

Maybe parents and toddlers aren’t really all that different. If I take a page for myself out of the book we use for helping Jackson manage his crazy emotions, it would look something like: “Take a deep breath. Wipe your nose. What you’re feeling won’t last forever.” Absent the nose-wiping, I may start repeating this mantra to help manage the push and pull of parenting — so that I can try to make those down moments short-lived and instead spend more time in the joyous emotions of parenting.