“You don’t have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you’re holding and my dear one, you and I have been granted a mighty generous one.”
― Cheryl Strayed
This Sunday, my first born turns four. Four! It boggles my mind. Sometimes it is hard for me to remember Theo as a baby because he has turned into such a force of nature. He is so full of life and vivaciousness that it takes me a minute to backtrack and remember the teeny-tiny, sickly little preemie we first brought home from the hospital.
I’ve reflected a lot lately on those first two years of Theo’s life. Those years were hard. While we were held hostage by our newborn for the first year of his life – rarely taking him out because of his susceptibility to illness – we were equally inhibited by his constant sickness his second year. For two years I was mad, so mad! I’ve written about my struggle before, so I won’t rehash old stories. But what I will share, is my new perspective.
As my baby boy turns four, I realize that what made the first two years hard will make the rest of my life hard if I don’t put a stop to it. What made my introduction into motherhood difficult, was not having a preemie; it was not the NICU; it was not the loneliness of having to stay home; it was not all the visits from the home health nurse for RSV shots; it was not Theo’s fussiness or his constant sickness.
What made all of this unbearable, was my perspective.
Like most new moms, I was anticipating the birth of my baby and all the exciting new ways my life would change. I thought constantly about how this new life would fit into my existing life. Never once did I think about how I would be fitting into his.
You see, the funny thing is, kids don’t come into this world thinking about you. They don’t care about your expectation, your hopes, your dreams, or your preferred sleep schedules. They don’t care because they can’t. They enter this world as individual human lives that can only think about their own needs and desires (and stay this way for quite some time).
Part of Theo being an individual human means he was born premature. It means his needs completely took me by surprise. It means he has never bee who I have expected.
And that is exactly the problem.
I don’t think any of the hopes and dreams we have for our kids are wrong. It is so fun to dream! But when expectations clash with reality we are left with a choice: honor the reality, or face real and crushing defeat.
For the first two years of Theo’s life, I clung so desperately to my expectations of what motherhood and who Theo would be like, that is drained me of all joy, energy and perspective. I was miserable.
If I’m honest, I can let the same thing happen even now. I slip right back into that on the days that I focus solely on how infuriating Theo’s independence, willfulness and curiosity can be.
But that is a choice.
I’d rather lay down my expectations and embrace the reality. The reality of a healthy, creative, silly and yes, wild little boy whose life epitomizes freedom. I’d rather shift my focus from unmet expectations, onto surpassed dreams. Theo is more full of life and vivacious than I could have ever imagined.
Who Theo is, blows my expectations of who he should be, clean out of the water.
So happy birthday, baby boy. You’re nothing like I ever expected. And boy – oh – boy, do I admire you for that. Here’s to you, just as you are. Wild and wonderful you.
(You can read my post about Theo’s premature birth here: “Great Expectations“.)