Having Kids Redefines Simple Words Like ‘Sleep,’ Clean,’ and ‘Me’
The parenting lingo you end up learning on your own
When I read that getting up early is defined as 6 a.m., I spit out my coffee laughing. I’m lucky if my 10-month-old daughter sleeps in until 4:30 a.m. these days. Waking up “early” at 6 a.m. would feel luxurious.
Children certainly change our perspectives. The sleep/eat schedule in our house has changed so much that even our elderly relatives, the ones who rise early and are blue-plate specialists, can’t keep pace. If we ask the grandparents to meet us for a “late” breakfast at 8 a.m., they balk: They’re just waking up.
Here are other words, concepts and expressions that undergo a sea change when the kids come along (every parent will identify!).
Sleep and Bedtime
Every parent-to-be expects that sleep will be fleeting for the first few years of their child’s life. But when you’re in the thick of it, the deprivation is so painful, uninterrupted sleep begins to look like a distant dream.
One mom of 1-year-old twins says her new normal is going to bed each night hoping it will be “the night” that both kids sleep through it entirely. “My definition of tired,” she says, “has completely changed.”
A dad named Fabian used to be a night owl, staying up until 2 a.m. even if he had work the next day. Now he has the same bedtime as his son, at 8:30 p.m. Many parents look forward to having a little personal time when their kids finally drop off to sleep — only to follow them on the path to slumber minutes later.
Having Some ‘Me’ Time
“Showering alone, anything alone” are what Sarah, a mother of three, reminisces about. Many mothers know the feeling. Your children have an instinctual “mama radar.” No matter how quiet you are, they can track you down. If you’re perfectly still, or asleep, they can smell you.
Remember all those weekends before you had kids? I can certainly fantasize about what I’d do with a day away from my cherubs, bless their hearts.
Carol says her two children have transformed her perception of this quality. When the kids start barging into the bathroom or bedroom during a clothes change, the formerly modest mom isn’t even fazed.
It starts with the prenatal visits. The act of giving birth then strips us of any modesty we may have had left. It brings new meaning to the phrase “knowing someone inside and out,” particularly if your husband assists with the birth.
Then comes nursing. Even the most discreet breastfeeding mom has probably exposed more of her body than she ever intended to, out of sheer clumsiness or exhaustion. (For most of us, it doesn’t matter. My body hasn’t been my own since I became pregnant with the first of my three kids more than six years ago.)
Having a Clean House
When I asked John, a new grandfather, how his kids changed his way of thinking, he quoted comedian Phyllis Diller: “Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the walk while it’s still snowing.”
The sane parent has to lower her standards of cleanliness because of the never-ending battle with order.
Then there’s “the constant deluge of laundry” that Kevin, a father of two, points out. “Why not just keep clean clothes right by the washing machine? They’ll end up back there soon enough.” On the bright side, folding clothes is the perfect excuse to sneak in a little TV.
I still cherish my Sunday morning paper. But rarely do I get to read even part of it. When I was trying to read the review of “Star Wars” the other day, my 3-year-old saw a storm trooper and took the page for himself. Then he and his brother giddily ran around the house with it, eventually ripping it to shreds. That same 3-year-old loves sitting on my lap at every meal and prefers what’s on my plate to his — though it’s the same thing.
Basically anything you care about and think the children wouldn’t notice — yeah, right!
I will drive 20 minutes out of my way to hit the “nearest” drive-thru Starbucks. Why? When my kids are running wild, I’ll strap them in the car and go for a drive just so I can just breathe. If they fall asleep in the car, we’ll hang out in front of the house so I can work in peace. My car has become a mobile home.
That might explain why our cars are filled to the brim. Food, blankets, clothes, toys, books — there is barely room to sit. And forget about the days when the car was clean.
I know other moms who do all sorts of things while parked in their cars — phone calls, knitting, napping, manicures, pedicures. Sometimes it’s the only downtime you can find in your day.
Mom’s clothes are no longer safe. Pre-child, I wore jewelry and dress shirts. Now I’m afraid to buy anything other than what I find on the Target sales rack. Earrings are a safety hazard. Any shirt that's just a little delicate manages to get stained or ripped the first time I put it on. I have to be ready to sprint or crawl on the floor at any second. High heels and skirts are reserved only for meetings and the rare date night. But I’m so comfortable in my yoga pants and tunics I’m not sure I’ll ever go back.
With kids, parents think about food all the time. I start breakfast shortly after waking up. By the time I get the kids to school, put the baby down for a nap, and clean up, it’s time to start preparing lunch. Somewhere in there I need to figure out dinner.
Then there’s paying for the food. Most of us run out to the store a few times a week and the bills claim a portion of the household intake we never expected. "Once upon a time we could plan a week of meals on a budget. These days feeding a family of four should be a tax write-off," says Kevin.
The craziness of raising children makes you appreciate the small things more. One parent said, "Time with my lovely wife becomes precious … connecting with her over drinks or a movie can feel like dating again."
Parents joke about how a vacation is never really a vacation when you have children. But exploring the world with eyes that are seeing things for the first time is like living your youth all over again. Vacationing with children, allowing yourself to be in the moment, forgetting the schedules and the "shoulds" for a while can renew your appreciation for your kids and your spouse. It’s like hitting a reset button on your soul.
There is one fresh definition that still stuns me: love. Not only did my idea of love change, it expanded to magnificent proportions. Hugging my children fills me with immense joy. When my oldest son smiles, any pain melts away. My heart is bursting with love -- making every early morning, sleepless night, and warped word definition absolutely worth it.