IT GETS WORSE – AND BETTER
By Joseph Walker
My colleague, Sharie, was tired. You could see it in her eyes, on her face and in the way she walked. She was weary. Worn down. Exhausted. Drained.
No question about it: a classic case of NPSS. You know: New Parent Shock Syndrome.
“Long night with the baby?” I asked.
She nodded. “I think he’s teething,” she said.
I understood. I had been there myself. Five times, in fact (well, OK – six; but I don’t remember much about the first time because I was the one doing the teething). So I tried to say something encouraging. Something compassionate. Something soothing.
“Well, brace yourself,” I said. “It gets worse.”
This was not what Sharie wanted to hear. Her eyes started to glaze over, and I thought I could detect a slight shudder. So of course, I continued.
“Yeah, teething is tough,” I acknowledged. “But wait until potty training. And the first day of school. And puppy love. And the raging hormones of adolescence.” I paused as one small tear trickled down her cheek.
“Yeah,” I continued with wizened sagacity, “it gets a whole lot worse.”
She looked at me curiously. “If it’s so tough,” she said, “why are you smiling?”
I wasn’t aware that a smile had betrayed the memories that were flooding my mind as I spoke, and I tried to wipe it away. But then I thought about our youngest, Jon, “anointing” his big brother, Joe, as only a potty-training 3-year-old can do the first time Joe tried to help the little guy do his
duty, and once again I felt a smile tugging at the corners of my mouth.
“Well, OK,” I said, chuckling, “I guess potty training isn’t so bad. At least it doesn’t seem so bad now that I look back on it.”
“But what about the first day of school?” Sharie wanted to know.
“Well, the thing about the first day of school is . . .” I stopped to remember how I anguished over our eldest daughter AmyJo’s first day of school, and whether or not she was ready for bullies, dodge ball and cutting up her own meat when she ate school lunch (the answers, it turns out, were “yes,” “yes,” and “who cares about cutting meat when you’ve got perfectly good fingers that can rip and tear?”). “Well,” I said with a bemused sigh, “I guess school isn’t that traumatic, now that I think about it.”
“And puppy love?”
“Now puppy love is really, really . . .” Suddenly I remembered Andrea’s written response to the third-grade boy who asked her to be his girlfriend (“I like you, Nick,” she wrote, “but I’m not ready for this.”). And the time Beth pretty much clocked the 5-year-old neighbor who tried to give her her first kiss. “. . . well, that’s actually really fun,” I had to admit.
By now even I could see the trend that was developing. I shrugged and smiled.
“Adolescence has its moments,” I said. “But it also has . . . well, other moments, too. It’s just that for some reason, when you’re going through it, the bad moments seem REALLY bad. But then time passes, and when you look back at it from a distance, the things you remember are the good times, and the bad stuff doesn’t seem so bad. Or so important.”
Sharie nodded, and a slight, tired smile brought new life to her face. “I’m sure you’re right,” she said. “It’s just hard to remember at 3 o’clock in the morning with a fussy baby in your arms. But I guess from your perspective you can even look back on teething with fondness.”
I thought about that for a second.
“Nope,” I said. “Sorry.”
Hey, there are some things that even time and perspective can’t improve.