Why I’m Terrified of the Next Stage

At least once a day I find myself thinking: “Nope! I didn’t sign up for this. Parenthood, screw you.”

Because this stuff is not easy. Like, realllllly not easy. Like set the difficulty level on maximum, tie a blindfold around your head, and then try to beat the game kind of not easy.

And it’s somehow just getting worse every day.

But how is that even possible? I’ve spent 20 whole months of my life walking around with another human inside my body. I literally had a watermelon-sized PERSON squirming away in my uterus, smashed up against my internal organs, stealing my vital nutrients and playing trampoline with my bladder. And that was the EASY PART!

After that came the sleepless nights and unforgettable days of being nothing more than a caffeine-fueled zombie with leaking tits. I’ll never forget the miserable nights when my colicky baby would scream at maximum lung capacity for four hours at a time and it was all I could do not to rip my own ears off and feed them to the dog. And the new parent anxiety? The trepidation associated with realizing there is a tiny little person whose life lies entirely in your hands and there is no reset button to press when you screw up? The fear of this realization is paralyzing, especially to those of us riddled with anxiety to begin with.

And what’s next? The toddler shit show. You know, when your sweet little chubby-cheeked angel somehow evolves into this shit-talking baby/person hybrid that still does all the annoying baby stuff but now thinks it’s a tiny grown up and yells at you every fifteen seconds. If you’re not yet in this phase, someday you will find your two young children huddled in a corner holding “safety” scissors and hacking away at each other’s hair, and you’ll fight back tears of frustration as you think to yourself “I can’t wait until this toddler shit is over, it can’t be worse than this.”

Oh, but I think it can. And it will.

Brace yourselves. Toddlerhood is coming.

Brace yourselves. Toddlerhood is coming.

When my kids were really young and they were glued to my hip 24/7, sympathetic people would occasionally say “don’t worry, it gets better when they get a little bigger and you don’t need to be on top of them all the time.” Although they were probably just saying that to steer the conversation away from the latest object my kid stuck up her nose, they were partially right. There is a certain undeniable freedom that goes along with being able to turn your back for ten seconds without the fear of finding a child swinging from a cabinet or eating raw chicken out of the garbage can.

But once you emerge from the sleep-deprived hell-on-earth of raising toddlers, you’re far from in the clear. When people used to tell me “little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems,” I wanted to punch them in the throat. I admit it wasn’t just their condescending attitude that pissed me off—it was the underlying fear that I would someday learn they were actually telling the truth. And now as I watch my own children each graduate from toddlerhood, I realize they are about to enter a world where they’re old enough to start remembering stuff. There’s no longer a margin for error. One bad screw-up and they’re like scarred for life, you guys. How is that for pressure?

Once toddlerhood is over, it dawns on you that that all you really needed to fix little kid problems was a big stack of baby wipes and a little patience. Or preferably, a good set of ear plugs. But these big kid problems are a doozy. Your kid starts coming home from school with questions that you’d rather fake your own death than answer. Let’s just say they don’t bat their innocent lashes at you and inquire where babies come from anymore. Oh, and the homework assignments? I can answer Final Jeopardy correctly at least once a week, yet I have to Google my son’s second grade homework problems for answers. WTF?

I’m not sure how much worse it gets from here, but I’ve read enough horror stories about texting and driving to know that the crap I’m dealing with now is fucking peanuts compared to what’s coming next. And I’m not ready for any of it.

This is How I Know I’m Failing at Adulthood

Am I the only one who has that single spot in their home that is just a constant, infuriating reminder of how epically they are failing as an adult?

For me, it’s right here:
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When it’s clean (semi-annually), it’s supposed to be the counter where you’ll find kitchen utensil storage and perhaps a place to store a few pieces of new mail. There is a little stack of post-it notes and a pen or two nearby for scrawling messages, like people in tidy homes do for each other when one isn’t home. There’s a calendar hanging up, not at all buried under a plethora of reminder notices and kids homework assignments. It’s an orderly, functional area of the home. Or at least, it’s supposed to be.

The thing is, this kitchen counter is more than just a ridiculously cluttered spot in a home that is almost equally disorganized. It’s more than an inside-out junk drawer that seemingly threw up on itself.  It’s more than a mere representation of my extremely messy personality.

It’s like…… a symbol of adulthood as I’ve come to know it.

Look closely. There isn’t just random junk mail and school art projects strewn carelessly about (though you will find an abundance of those too).

There are actual important documents in that pile. Things that should be dealt with immediately or at least put away neatly. Things like unpaid bills. Important school notices. Insurance paperwork. My income taxes. My daughter’s first ever “report card” from preschool. Copies of the magazine I work for — my own words literally published in print for the first time in my life. Like, seriously important shit.

It’s as though everything that is vitally significant to my existence resides within a chaotic stack of crap on my kitchen counter, sandwiched between loose crayons and old Costco catalogues.

It’s not like I really have time to clean it. I sometimes distractedly stop what I’m doing and grab one or two things off the top to either toss in the recycling bin or file away somewhere safe. But then I take a second look and think “who the hell am I even kidding?” and give up to stick my head in the fridge to find something to snack on while flipping through the TV (which I also technically don’t have time for, but…..).

Basically the stack just grows higher and higher with each passing day, more and more art projects and potentially important documents piled on top on a regular basis.

Sometimes I walk past that counter and I’m just like, holy shit. If being an adult were a class in school I would be seriously flunking out. If growing up were a video game, I would lose one life every time I added another “Final Notice” to the never-ending stack ‘o’ crap. If the fate of the entire free world hinged on my ability to be an actual, mature, grown, human being, there would be a crisis of apocalyptic proportions.

I think that kitchen counter represents the apocalypse of my ability to have my shit together. My shit has never been so UN-together in my whole life. I thought it was bad when I was in college and only did laundry when my clean underwear ran out or when I was tired of dousing my waitress apron with coffee to cover the split-pea soup stains. But these days I only do laundry when the dirty clothes in the laundry basket are no longer stackable and begin heaving themselves onto the floor like a Jenga puzzle.

When you’re young, you have this built-in notion that someday you’ll enter adulthood and just automatically grow up. Like it happens overnight or something. Maybe the domestic goddess fairy will sprinkle some fairy dust on your pillow one night and you’ll wake up the next morning as June Cleaver or at least Monica Gellar.

How idiotic, right? No one ever seems to realize that keeping your shit together is hard enough when you only need to care for yourself, but it’s exponentially more difficult when you’re suddenly taking care of others as well. Why did no one ever tell me this? Guess it doesn’t matter now.

Here’s a funny thought: I just realized that the time I’ve devoted to writing about my messy kitchen counter could have been spent ACTUALLY CLEANING IT.

Ha! As if.