COLUMN: Learning to cherish the good, bad and the ugly

Finding the joys of parenthood buried under mountains of laundry and scattered toys.

‘Enjoy them while they’re young – it goes by so fast!”

This is the sentence I hear most often when I tell people I have two young children.

It most commonly comes from people whose children are now adults, and are, perhaps, even now parents themselves.

My husband and I are extraordinarily lucky to have two healthy and beautiful children – an almost four-year-old daughter and an almost two-year-old son.

Admittedly, we dove head-first into parenthood rather blindly five years ago, blissfully unaware of what it would do to our carefree, newlywed lives.

Now, when I hear childless friends talk about sleeping till noon, binge-watching Netflix or taking a spur-of-the-moment trip out of town, thoughts of such a life seem like a fairytale to me.

When I returned to work after my second maternity leave, my husband and I – faced with astronomical daycare expenses – decided to take a ‘divide-and-conquer’ approach.

We work staggered shifts to reduce daycare hours – a bonus for our bank account, no doubt, but with no days off together week in and week out, the setup has put a fair amount of strain on our family.

Our house is in ruins, my husband and I are starting to forget what the other looks like and by the end of any given day – whether spent working or flying solo with two energetic kids – we are collapsing in exhaustion to enjoy a few moments of peace before starting it all over again the next morning.

We’re trying to ‘enjoy it’, we really are.

But this hardly feels like the idyllic family life we imagined not long after saying our ‘I do’s’.

We make every effort to squeeze in fun, memorable activities on the rare chance we can spend the day together. Over the holidays, we were thrilled at the prospect of sharing Christmas with our two little ones, and visiting family and friends we all too rarely get the chance to see – until the kids both got sick on Christmas Eve, and we spent the next several days quarantined, in a sea of runny noses and Vick’s Vaporub.

It makes me wonder if people with grown children are looking back at these early days with rose-coloured glasses.

The truth is, I know my kids will grow up way too fast. In fact, they already are.

A few weeks ago, my two-year-old was throwing a mini-tantrum as I was trying to feed him some oatmeal. His older sister – who not too long ago was throwing toddler tantrums herself – grabbed the bowl and spoon from my hand, and casually said “I got this,” as she fed her instantly-calmed brother.

I suddenly saw myself in the not-too distant future, wishing for one more game of This Little Piggy on my son’s chubby toes, or wishing I could watch Frozen for the thousandth time with my daughter.

I realized that these are the small, heart-swelling moments that make raising children such an amazing, indescribable – albeit exhausting and stressful – experience.

It may be hard to find the joys of parenthood when they’re buried under mountains of laundry or scattered across a floor littered with Cheerios and fishy crackers.

We’re never going to have the perfect ‘Hallmark Card’ life – if such a thing really exists – no matter how young or old our children are.

So instead, we embrace the chaos by casting the vacuum cleaner aside in exchange for a bucket of Lego or a collection of plastic dinosaurs, clean floors be damned.

After all, when our kids are grown, we won’t remember our pristine house or credit-card balances. We’ll be longing for sticky hands, muddy boots and yes, even a toddler tantrum. And we’ll no doubt be asking ourselves how on earth it went by so fast.

Melissa Smalley is a reporter at the Peace Arch News.