In the romantic imaginings of what parenting will be, we indulge ourselves with dreams of all the important “firsts” : first steps, first words, first days of school, first lost teeth. I had wanted to be a mom for so long by the time the twins were born that I had a significant collection of “first fantasies”, and it’s satisfying and wonderful to realize that even my best thinking of what it would be like to see my babies do something new for the first time fell short of how amazing it actually is to experience it. In fifteen months, we’ve had piles of firsts from typical developmental milestones (rolling over, solid foods) to cultural and existential firsts like interacting directly with their twin for the first time and first time seeing snow. At this current new-walker, new-talker toddler stage, we are first-ing left and right these days.
Yet sometimes when I think about all the expected and exciting firsts, I am struck by how many firsts I didn’t expect. Firsts that are scary, heart-breaking, hard to accept and complicated. As a mother, some of these kind of firsts impact me far more than I expect they will impact C and B. Often they come out of the blue–like C’s first bloody nose yesterday–and scare me and make me think crazy things (“Now he knows that his nose can bleed…now he knows about bleeding…he’s probably scared to bleed or get hurt now…now he can never un-know about bleeding). Sometimes they make me sad, like the first time a dog growled at B when she got too close and she learned that not all creatures want to be loved on by her at all times.
Here are some firsts I didn’t expect…firsts that were hard:
- First day of life, 7 weeks early, unable to be held by their parents because they were attached to life-saving medical equipment in the NICU.
- First time they appeared to feel betrayed by me: 1 year shots. This was so gutting that I tear up as I type it.
- First time apart from each other. C was re-hospitalized for 4 days shortly after they came home from the NICU and B was not allowed in the unit to visit due to infection risks.
- First time at daycare., 1 year old. They were totally fine, I was a disaster.
- First day B wearing her glasses, at 8 month’s old. She hated them, I cried, it was dramatic.
- First time being told “no”. This one happened while I was feeding them at maybe 6 months old, when B kept spray-spitting out squash because she liked the sensation. It flowed out of me like water, automatic and firm: “No. No spitting.” Life until that moment had only consisted of “yes”.
While I know all these unexpected firsts are a necessary part of letting my children experience the world and become people, I still struggle with how to manage my own experience of them. I think this speaks to a great truth about parenting for me: it’s the most vulnerable thing I have ever done. My half of the bargain involves being present for the hard stuff, feeling the ache in the hard first moments as willingly as I feel the joy in the exciting ones. Which, incidentally, is a “first” of my own.
What “firsts” have you and your kids experienced that took you by surprise?