And to clarify, I don't count pregnancy as parenting time because that is the easy part. Yes, you pre-children people, the part where your body is a kiddie-condo and you have to watch every morsel and molecule that enters your ever expanding body as you blow up mercilessly with water-retention. The part where mini-you makes your hormones go apeshit, creating food cravings which come on at all hours of the day and night, and makes your normally normal-sized body not give one whit that it's gaining weight and girth exponentially because you want that peanut-butter-tuna sandwich and the grapefruit-guava smoothie to wash it down with, and you want it N.O.W. damn it!!! These hormone-fueled cravings are so strong that you want whatever you are craving with the same intensity that the Underground Railroad escapees wanted freedom. And figuring out how to navigate the world with a medicine ball in your shorts is no easy task--it takes practice just to not tip over. And yet, I don't count this as parenting, because this is the easy part. Hmmm that could be a mini-blurb for a birth control site just on it's own, and I haven't even begun to mention labor and delivery...
Thing is, while you're pregnant, you comfort yourself through all the myriads of discomfort with visions of cover-model-pink-cheeked-brilliant-eyed-cherubs. You know about diapers, and you've heard that babies wake up at all hours of the night. There are so many things that being a parent entails, that no one tells you about--and even if someone, by the grace of God, tells you; you simply won't get it until you experience it for yourself. I thought, because I had baby-sat for almost every teen year of my life, and had a younger sister that I knew what I was in for, right? Oh, you naive woman, you have no idea.
And, this has been said to the point of cliche, but honestly, it IS true. Parenthood changes you. But it's in ways that you couldn't begin to conceive of in a pre-parent or pregnancy state. Kind of like my move to Texas. I thought I knew, but I SOOOO didn't know, ya know? Reality has a way of smiling as it comes up on you, and then in it's final approach, it will reach out a hand and slap you with a huge 8-day-old-500-pound-swordfish. And then it will smile at you again, just to show there are no hard feelings.
No one can explain to you the feeling that you will get when go in to watch your child sleep, and how that feeling will be better than any summer-blockbuster or sex or wine or drug you ever experienced. And in those moments, when they really do resemble the pink-cheeked-cherub from your prego delusion, you will tear up because your heart is so full of wonder and love and potential that you simply cannot contain yourself. At those times, you forget all the grueling nights-in-a-row when you fed them at 3 am, and were so sleep deprived that you would nod off and almost drop them off your lap. You also forget the stretch of time where you were someone who was once fastidious to the point of being neurotic about their appearance and fashion choices, and yet, as a parent, now will go two days without a shower and don't even flinch when you get baby-puked-on for the third time that day. The adorable-child-of-mine-sleep-watch is something that every single parent does, it's a universal leveler, but no one can adequately describe it to you before you become a parent nor can you describe it's awesome power. It is this power which ensures that most children survive to school-age. This is because God in his (or her) infinite wisdom, made kids cute to their parents for their own self-defense; another universal leveler.
There are no levelers for the types of parents there are, however. The human race being as varied as it is, there are all types of parents; good, average, bad, and then there are the Wonder Moms. They are the moms that volunteer at school every week, and drop their kids off with their hair done, full make up, and non-pajama clothing on every day. They are the ones that go to the park after school and on weekends with regularity and look happy to be there. They don't shriek at their children about forgetting their backpacks, and they always sign and return the permission slips on time AND will be a chaperon for every class trip. It's a guarantee that some time during their child's academic career, they will be the president of the PTA and a den mother to at least one scout group. They make it to church every week, again with the kicker, on time and are part of the ladies group. Despite tough economic times, they plan, save for, and actually manage to take the family to Disneyland at least once a year. They are a topic of discussion (and the secret envy) of all non-Wonder Moms.
But, there is something else that every single parent on the planet goes through, even Wonder Mom. There will come a point when you say to yourself that you coulda, shoulda, woulda done or said 'XYZ' better, and you will feel guilty. Guilt is one of the universal levelers for parents from every era, everywhere. We all have it sooner or later. At least once in your parenting life, you will be gripped with this guilt to such a crushing-suffocating degree that you will Will WILL cry. It's as much of a given as the diaper thing. But this is one of the most hidden of hidden parenting secrets. This is something they don't talk about with other parents, never mind before you become one.
The knowledge of universal levelers may not help you get peanut butter off the dog, or bubble-gum-all-the-way-to-the-scalp out of your child's hair, but it does make it a little easier to smile at Wonder Mom at the bake-sale (that she organized and baked 300 cupcakes and two bundt cakes for so that the school can keep the music program) when she gives you that movie-star-white-Donna-Reed smile as you pay for your kid's one cupcake and the three more you bought to eat on your no-makeup-sweat-pant-and-ripped-T-shirt-wearing ride home. In the field of parenting, on a few subjects, for a brief, moment you and Wonder Mom are equals... Oh hell, that might even deserve another cupcake!