Asher is now two and a half months old. We are slowly etching out a new normal, creeping our way towards a bit of routine, and I am significantly adjusting my standards for what it means to have a “successful” day or a “nice” time out with the boys. “Was your time at the library nice?” Keane asks. And my answer is not based on whether or not our time was uneventful, but rather how many times it all hit the fan. The most significant help to me in all this has been candid conversations with dear friends who are also parents of little ones who normalize my experience by sharing about theirs, and who show me a whole lot of empathy and compassion in the process. It’s been the best kind of personal challenge to hear these friends recount their stories, eyes rolling, heads shaking, and laughing the whole time. My oldest friend (oldest here equaling longevity — it’s quite a feat for a TCK like me to have a friend from middle school) recently regaled me with her trip to convenient care, catching the vomit of one in her bare hand while she juggling her toddler and a large diaper bag in the other. Oh, yeah, and she was about 38 weeks pregnant at the time. I suppose there isn’t room for anything other than laughter after such an awful body fluid disaster.
In all of these conversations, more people than I can count have referred to this period in our lives as being lived “in the trenches.” It’s a dramatic phrase. During my years in Germany I was able to visit (read: crawl through) some World War I trenches, to see exactly how close the German and French frontlines were in relation to each other, to try and wrap my imagination around the horrid conditions of those trenches during rainstorms and snowstorms and on hot and humid days. I think we can all agree that it’s fairly ludicrous to compare parenting little children to actual wartime events. Although admittedly, I have occasionally likened our two year old to being a dictator and am pretty sure some of the toddler diapers I’ve changed are a sign of the apocalypse, so I suppose over-dramatization is, you know, my thang.
And still, the phrase sticks. In the trenches. These are days of being in the trenches. In the dirt, barely able to see ten feet ahead, tired, hungry, wishing we could get back to a life of rest and comfort.
Lest this phrase completely dissuade anyone I know who is considering parenthood and who now realizes that would be a step of insanity, I am happy to tell you that the analogy breaks down, and fast. The first weeks are hard, so hard. The sleep deprivation can be shocking, like stepping out of a hot tub and cannon balling into a frigid pool. If you have a child biologically, the postpartum hormones are real (for both mom AND dad), and the physical recovery can be brutal. For my friends who have adopted, there are a whole other range of attachment issues to consider, and even still, sleep deprivation is sleep deprivation. Whoever you are, however this baby came into your life, you’re still probably splitting your nights into shifts, dozing off in lazy boys, wondering if you’ll ever sleep in the same bed as your significant other again. But six or eight weeks in, that little baby smiles at you. The trench gets a little shallower. Fast forward a few weeks, and maybe baby is sleeping for slightly longer stretches. You begin to feel human again. It’s still hard, but the saving grace of the newborn phase is just that — it’s a phase. In rapid succession, small changes and developments take place, and slowly, without realizing it, the trench you’re in transforms from something so hard into something beautiful.
Two nights ago, my little man woke up five times in the space of 12 hours, and yesterday my toddler was full of emotion and defiance and pent up energy. Last night, the baby woke up once, and today the big one has been (mostly) eager to please and enjoyed several hours in the sunshine at the park. I don’t know what tonight and tomorrow will hold. I’m so grateful for the presence of the Lord in the trenches. Sometimes I’m even grateful for the trenches themselves. But today, I am so grateful for a chance to step outside of these trenches, into the warm sun, and to be reminded, again, that there is joy and delight even in this season.