There are a few Universal Parenting Nightmares, like “leaving the kid behind on a road trip” or “the baby filling her tights with poo right at the christening font.” There are also long, arid stretches of parental boredom, such as waiting for a kid with chicken pox who “feels better” to be healed enough to go out in public again, or when someone's in the middle of an awful “stage” and there's nothing to do but wait it out.
Then there are those lesser things, things that “everyone” hates, but that I secretly thoroughly enjoy . . .
1. Mud. Parents hate mud, right? It gets on clothes, it gets on shoes (and therefore rugs), it gets in hair. Well, this is true, and I do hate cleaning mud. However . . . one of my favorite memories of when the kids were small is the time we found a truly massive mud puddle down a seldom-used alley. I mean that thing was enormous; a toddler could swim in it. I could lay down in it full-length and it came up to my knees. I think the resident kids at the time were 9, 5 and 1, and we were on our daily walk. We looked at each other, and at this private inner-city oasis, and then I jumped in. We had such fun, stomping and splashing and shrieking! Oh sure, we got some funny looks walking home, and yes, it's lucky we didn't all die of cholera or something, and none of those clothes was ever the same again, but . . . totally worth it.
2. Kids that won't sleep through the night. Well, waking up every hour on the hour is admittedly very sub-optimum; but a baby who woke up once or twice a night was a gem in my eyes. I loved those serene moments of rocking, nursing a baby and looking at the stars outside the window. It was distilled mothering time. When they kids got a little older I would occasionally miss them so much after they went to bed that I'd go wake them up again. We'd eat ice cream at the kitchen table, or sit on the porch swing and point out constellations. We still stay up way too late some nights talking; the best heart-to-hearts take place in the dark, after all.
3. “Why?” I have always been delighted to answer questions, or to help somebody find the answers for themselves. That very-young-child inquisitiveness was fun, because I've always been a firm believer that if they are old enough to ask the question, they're old enough to hear an (age-appropriate) answer. Besides, Lordy do I love to talk – I don't usually have to be prompted twice.
4. Those Terrible Teen Years. At whatever stage any given child is at the moment, that's when I always think, “This is my favorite stage.” It may really be true about the teen years, though. Yes, they can be moody and demanding. They are also brilliant, unpredictable, thoughtful and hilarious. I think the problem a lot of adults have with teenagers is that the adults are now expected to use some politeness in conversation. I think that parents have to put on their party manners a little more often when their children reach the teen years, and model a little better the behavior we would have them emulate – especially if we want to continue to see them when they're grown.
5. Order. Yes, I think order and routine is vital for children; it helps them feel stable and in control of their lives if they know what to expect. However, I think it's just as vital to astonish them occasionally if we want to keep them from growing up anxious little automatons. There's no reason not to serve dinner on a bare table, for instance – no serving bowls, no plates, just dump the spaghetti and salad and roll at their places and give everybody a fork. You may only do it once, but – don't you want to try that? (It's a blast, by the way – some things are worth the mess.) The occasional departure from the ordinary keeps family life interesting, and anything that helps YOU to share in the magic of childhood can only be good for your soul.