Recently a young mom friend was chronically the chaos, struggle and exhausted-grasp-for-survival she feels every day. We were sitting on her patio, me with a coffee in my hand, my grown kids busy with their lives, my young teen running through the yard, waving and saying “I’m going to Lizzie’s, see you!”. Across from me, she sits, looking defeated with her young baby crawling all over her, pulling her hair, grabbing at the breast for a snack and then turning away to look around, nipple gripped tightly in his teeth. The other three are on the swings in the background, intermittently calling out for her to “Watch this, Mommy!” or “Did you see that?” while she tries to complete just one full sentence without losing a tenuous and exhausted focus. I watched with a tinge of nostalgia and not-a-little bemusement. Oh, how I remember those days. Oh, how I understand. Oh . . . how I miss it.
When I was a young mom my grandfather told me that parenting is a roller coaster. That I just needed to hold on and remember that there are ups and downs on every ride. I think he’s right; it’s a wicked but exciting roller coaster. It looks, from the waiting line below, like so much fun. We, the mass of unsuspecting first-timers, apprehensively yet hopefully, search the faces of the finishers for signs of what to expect; they seem all smiles, if not a little dizzy and green. So we wait with anticipation and excitement for our turn. We buckle in and smile at the friend next to us, exchanging nervous shrugs with the stranger strapped in behind us. The cars start to click-click-click up that first hill and we think “Oh, wait, stop! I want off, I changed my mind!” But there is no going back. The shoulder straps are locked down tight and we are in it now. Before we know it we are at the summit of that first hill. We plummet, and rise, we lurch and bounce and question our sanity for willingly taking a seat on this torture-train. We even paid money, we waited in line for this!
Just as we are screaming at our friend that we HATE this ride, we come to a hilltop that is actually kind of beautiful. We see some vistas of the park that take our breath away, if only for a moment before we are yanked violently back down a harrowing drop. Up and down and side to side we fly, sometimes laughing, sometimes gritting our teeth in fear, anticipating the worst. Sometimes smiling contentedly at the spectacular views.
Before we can even process all that we have seen and experienced, the ride pulls into the station with a sudden and jarring lurch. We smile and look at the friend beside us as we both say “Whoa, that was actually fun!” The mass of unsuspecting participants, still eagerly awaiting their turn, apprehensively, yet hopefully, search the finisher’s faces for signs of what to expect when their buckles click into place. All they can see are happy smiles, a slight dishevelment of hair and clothes and a little bit of gathered wisdom on faces and so they strap in, excited to take their turn on the ride of a lifetime, blissfully unaware of what’s to come.
Hang in there, parents. This ride isn’t all fun and laughs around every turn or down every steep drop, but one day the car will lurch back into the station and you will smile and remember that it was, indeed, the ride of a lifetime.