The Second Biggest Lesson I Learned in Parenting

On November 22, my oldest son turned seven. The week leading up to it was full of me reminding him, “This is the last Monday as a six-year-old!” “This is the last shower as a six-year-old!” “This is the last time you’ll eat burritos as a six-year-old!” I thought it was endearing emotional and magical to mark the time this way. He did not.

In the 10 ½ years since we got married, I have seen Rodney freak out once. It was the night we got our first positive pregnancy test. For exactly twelve hours he walked around in a daze, his usually confident, assuring and optimistic self, suddenly withdrawn, stunned, and mute.

The next morning he woke up, passed the “freak out” baton to me, and for the past seven years, I’ve kept a white-knuckled grip on it all by myself.

We brought Asher home from the hospital on Thanksgiving Day. On a day normally filled with football and parades, long hours of dinner conversation, shared memories, and toasted drinks, we were packing up a car full of diapers from the hospital, a prescription for Percocet that made me feel loopy for days, and a baby. An actual, human, baby, all swallowed up in his coming home outfit and snugly secured in his infant car seat.

And then, last week, he turned seven. These days he is all, winks and sly glances. He is Legos and Star Wars. He is clever and sometimes a know it all. He is tentative but persistent. He is imaginative and athletic and did I mention, he’s seven? Seven.

We’ve moved from the house where we brought our babies home to the hospital. We live about thirty minutes south and rarely head up to the old stomping grounds. But when we do, we pass the hospital my boys were born in, and every time I point it out, reminding them, interrupting them, silencing them, “Look! That’s where I met you for the very first time! That’s where I became a mom! That’s when I became a mom again! That’s where you became mine! And now look at you. Practically a grown-up. How did that happen?” I tear up almost every time. So much has changed since those miraculous birthdays.

Bringing a baby home on Thanksgiving was hard for me, the girl who treats tradition like a security blanket. Having a day known for its deep tradition be upended by something as big as a new child, left me reeling. There seemed so little recognizable about a holiday that is precious in its familiarity.

But the day after we arrived home, Rodney, once again the levelheaded one, suggested we do something familiar. That we get a Christmas tree. That we do what we’ve always done. Because yes, life is different, but in so many ways, it is very much the same. So, let’s keep what we can. And make peace with what we can’t.

I will never forget that day. Getting showered and dressed, getting Asher changed and fed, getting the diaper bag packed and loaded, getting the car ready to leave, and then actually doing it. Rodney fighting for some semblance of normalcy in our newly upended life so his fragile wife would feel anchored in the best possible way: by the things that don’t have to change when everything else around us does.

I thought becoming a parent was the biggest change I would ever experience in my life. I thought adding to our family would be the thing that overturned my life in a way nothing else ever could. So, I clung tightly to the things I was able to—like Christmas tree shopping the day after Thanksgiving—to ground me and stabilize me. But I was wrong. Life doesn’t change once when you become a parent. It changes constantly.

It changes when this immobile child begins to roll, and then crawl, and eventually walk.

Then they run.

It changes when this little one begins speaking words with delight, and then reading words with care. It changes when they get new teeth and then one day lose those same teeth, tucking them under their pillow in expectation of the cash reward that awaits them the next morning. It changes when they move from a crib to a bed, to a tent camping in the backyard. It changes when they move from baby food to finger food, to using an actual knife to cut their very own chicken. It changes every day they get older especially on the days when we mark one year having passed.

It changes the day they are born. It changes the day they turn seven. And it changes every day in between.

And on the big days and the unassuming ones, I find myself once again grasping at the familiar in a world that all of a sudden feels foreign again.

The biggest lesson I learned in parenting was to embrace the change and let go of what needs to be let go, for the sake of something new. The next biggest lesson I learned was to hold on to the fundamentals amid the change for the sake of the good and the familiar in the old.

It’s why we still get Christmas trees the day after Thanksgiving.

It’s why I’ll talk with wonder every time I pass the hospital—no matter how old they get— and remind the boys that something magical took place there.

It’s why we watch Charlie Brown Christmas, even as they age out of it.

And why we spend the whole day together on birthdays, even when they get to the age where they’d rather not.

It’s why we put streamers in the doorways, after they go to sleep, and why we drink hot chocolate and eat popcorn during movie nights in the winter.

Because change happens and affects the necessary things, but it doesn’t have to affect everything. And because the things we fight to hold on to are more than convenient or sentimental, they are the things that ground us. They remind us time has no bearing on their happening. That change changes most things, but not all things. And that the things we fight to keep the same communicate more than good memories. They communicate roots that go deep, family that stays the course, and a foundation not easily shaken.

My boy turned seven. He has the same brow and chin as the baby I brought home seven Thanksgivings ago. But he is a different boy. He is a changing boy. He is brand new to me today, and will be again tomorrow, and that kills me. But while I watch him change, I will hold more tightly to the things change cannot touch and time cannot take away.




And Christmas tree shopping the day after Thanksgiving.

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