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May 24, 2014

A reminder of the small-child years

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The Daily Star

---- — It’s amazing how quickly you forget what earlier stages of parenting are like. This is probably a blessing — and one that only evolved after countless generations of parents only had one child because they could remember each stage too clearly.

In case you haven’t guessed, logic like this is the reason I’m not a biologist. 

A couple of weekends ago, I had the pleasure of traveling to Pittsburgh and visiting with some friends of mine from college. I slept in their guest room, too, because they are that sort of friends, the ones you can call and say, “hey. I’ll be in town for a strange set of reasons. I want to see you, too, but I also want you to let me sleep in your guest room.”

We’re all in our early 40s. My kids are almost 12 and almost 9, well into the part of adolescence where parenting is more mental than it is physical. My friends have two boys under the age of 5 and are deeply in the endurance phase. 

Let me make it abundantly clear: the two boys are beautifully behaved and terribly sweet. Theyact completely appropriately for their ages, which are, again, younger than 5.

I was exhausted just watching all the daily madness that small kids require. Like breakfast. You can’t just stand by the coffee machine and grunt while pointing at the cabinet where the cereal is. I’d forgotten how much of a game changer it was when both of mine learned how to get themselves out of bed and find food.

I’d also forgotten about the necessity of naps for the smaller ones and how you have to plan around them. And I’d forgotten about how active how pre-schoolers are every minute of every day. Mostly, for these two, this involved playing with trains, interspersed with stories. Not hard, mind, but all-consuming when you have to keep half an eye on what’s going on.

But the biggest bit I’d forgotten is how many times you are up and down during the night when the rug-rats are wee.

At some dark hour, long after I’d sacked out in the guest room, I heard the sort of crying that requires some sort of intervention. While my wide-awake brain is well aware of how old my children are, my half-asleep brain rolled over to see if my husband had already gotten up to deal with the crying. He wasn’t in bed with me, so I assumed he had.

Then I woke up a little bit more and realized I was not in my own bed. 

And woke up a little more and remembered that I’d come to Pittsburgh alone. 

And woke all the way up and realized that, even if I did get out of bed to do something about the crying to give my friends a break, I’d only make it worse because the poor kid would be confronted with a relative stranger when all he wanted was his mom.

And, then, secure in the knowledge that the crying wasn’t my problem, I went right back to sleep, which is a defense mechanism that I’m happy to see I still have from my own small-child years.

Which isn’t to say that small children don’t have their perks, too. It was weird to be with kids who actually seemed to want to be with me. Perhaps it was simply because I was a novelty — but my friend’s kids listened to what I said. One even requested that I read that night’s pre-bed story, which was a high compliment indeed.

My own children — the ones I carried around in my very own body and brought into the world after hours of mind-blowing pain — no longer hear the sound of my voice. So it was fun to be listened to, if only for a few days.

The older boy was also fascinated by my toes because they had been painted a terra cotta-y red.

He just couldn’t quite wrap his head around it and would sit next to me and run on finger up and down my big toenail like he was trying to rub the color off. It was sweet, frankly, and just a smidge weird, which is how the small ones are most of the time in their own charming ways.

All in all, it was a good visit. It was great to spend time with some people I’ve known for 20-plus years. It was also great to be reminded how far my kids have come. You forget what a blessing a solid eight hours of sleep can be — and it’s good to able to assure parents in the middle of the physical part of the process that it will change eventually.

Adrienne Martini is a freelance writer, instructor at the State University College at Oneonta, mom to Maddy and Cory, wife to Scott, and author of “Sweater Quest.” Her columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/parentingimperfect.