Some people walk into parenthood with a very specific set of ideas on what it will look like. They have lots of plans. You know the ones, right? “Oh, my child will never act that way in public.” And, “Oh I will never feed my child that.”
Those people are delightful, no?
Me, I was definitely not one of those people. In fact, if there were a spectrum of pre-parental awareness (think 10—knows everything and 0—knows nothing), I would have been a -20. I was 100% clueless as to what parenting would entail, how I would handle it, and what exactly it would look like. As it turns out, this was both a blessing and a curse for my parenting career.
When I was pregnant with Dillon, I literally had no idea what I was doing. None. Really. I was scared out of my mind. I played brave to the world, I think, with the exception of that one time at Target where I may have had a major meltdown over diaper sizes. But deep inside, I was terrified.
I knew I could barely, at that time in my life, take care of myself much less a tiny human being. I, the woman who once needed help getting out of her very own boots (true story), was going to be in charge of dressing and changing a wiggly newborn—preposterous. Don’t even get me started on the terror of bathing a squirming infant who seems so infinitely breakable… This caused hot sweats and postpartum nightmares for weeks. How any of us have any confidence before having babies, I will never know.
This stuff is crazy.
And this is why Dillon’s birth story is so funny. Because, well, it was my very first clueless action, in a now long and storied career of clueless actions, that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am way out of my league in this parenting thing.
Let me paint a picture for you–Jeff and I were newlyweds. We were living thousands of miles from family. We were nine months pregnant and terrified out of our minds. We were feeling the pressure of parenting, marriage, life, and career, and we weren’t adeptly handling it. We weren’t used to our now daily tightrope juggle of so many competing needs. So, when Jeff was told he had to travel to Texas when I was 37 weeks pregnant, we did what we thought was right. We asked our doctor, “Is this okay? Is this baby going to make a grand appearance while he’s away?”
And it’s at this point in the story that we also learn a very valuable lesson about doctors—they too are winging it. Sometimes the best they can do is take a guess based on education and experience and cross their fingers. That’s it.
So, with reassurance from our, turns out, completely guessing doctor, Jeff hopped on a jet plane and flew back to his mother state. All was good. I kept busy. I think I hung out with a few friends, shopped, and chatted with my mom. But, if I’m honest, I don’t really know because life before kids was such a blur of inactivity that felt busy but now, looking back, seems laughably un-busy despite my belief that I was just exhausted from the stress of it. Then, 2:00 am Sunday morning came, and even my complete novice self knew something was happening.
Imagine this, friends. I was alone. In the middle of the night. I was terrified. And a baby was coming. Of this, I was quickly sure.
Now, this was the time before iPhones and constant connectivity. So getting Jeff to actually wake up to the anemic peal of his flip phone wasn’t easy. But eventually, after a few tries, he did. And the plan flew into action. Well, at least part of the plan. Because even though we were young and idiotic, we did actually have a plan. He kept up his side of the bargain, hastily packing up and running to the airport to hop the first flight available. For my part, though, I decided a detour was preferable.
I was supposed to call our friends and have them drive me the 25 minutes up the 5 freeway to the hospital, which, if you’re familiar with California you know that it is a terrible idea to drive on the 5 even without being in labor. In labor, it’s just the worst. I was supposed to ask for help. But here’s the thing, I’m kind of stubborn. So I didn’t. Our friends had four kids, and their youngest was a baby. I didn’t want to disturb them. And I was afraid. So I did what any normal, sane woman would do. I put a towel down on my front seat (because gross), and I drove myself to the hospital. Labor pains and all.
I had no idea at the time how dangerous this was. I vaguely knew it probably wasn’t my best move, but I also figured, “Hey, I’ve got this.” (I didn’t have this.) The moment I walked into the hospital, the nurses started gathering around, circling the wagons around this poor, lonely pregnant woman—an apparent anomaly in the world of L&D. I was like a delivery room superstar. Nurses I didn’t even know, who weren’t mine, would peek their heads in to ask, “Is he here yet?”
I got a stern lecture from multiple people. I’m honestly surprised I didn’t make the news.
Except, Dillon patiently waited for his daddy to arrive. He came just an hour or so later, screaming loud and proud into this world. Which he still, to this day, does on the daily.
Y’all, I was clueless.
And the biggest joke of my parenting life is, well, I still am.
I’m clueless when I’m trying to help this child (who was once an impatient baby coming three weeks early) navigate the complicated emotions of middle school or the ridiculous equations of sixth-grade math. I’m clueless when I see his folder laying in his homework bin long after he’s been picked up for carpool. Do I take it to him? Is that enabling? I have no freaking idea.
Guys, I have no idea what I’m doing with this parenting thing. And most days I feel like I’m losing.
When my middle son was born with a birth defect, everyone and their mother sent me this essay called “Welcome to Holland.” It’s a beautiful illustration of what it feels like to have a child with a birth defect or a disability, a child who is different than you expected. It breathed life into my hurting heart, the one that dealt with the pain of having a kid who looked different… A baby all but ignored by strangers who would peek, hoping to ooh and aah over the cute, little baby, only to turn away shocked into silence over not knowing what to say. I lived this essay.
The thing I’ve realized about parenting, though, is that every child is “Welcome to Holland” at some time. Every single parent, no matter what, will have a “Welcome to Holland” moment. Because here’s the thing–it’s never what we think it will be. Whatever script we write for our lives, or theirs, is just a mere suggestion for the brush strokes of God’s plan for our lives.
“Welcome to Holland” is a child with all of the athletic gifts in the world and the pedigree of superstar parents, saying, “I don’t want to play that anymore, Dad. I want to act. I’m done.”
“Welcome to Holland” is a child who doesn’t have friends, despite a parental line of a Homecoming Queen and Prom King. A child who has quirks and ticks that maybe the other kids don’t like. And they can’t help it.
“Welcome to Holland” is a kid who feels so bad about themselves that no matter what you do, they are angry and mad and make threats to hurt themselves. And sometimes, even do it.
“Welcome to Holland” is the child of two valedictorians struggling to make Cs.
“Welcome to Holland” is small things. And big.
“Welcome to Holland” is the price of raising a human being, flawed from the beginning, yet infinitely loved and valued.
“Welcome to Holland” is hard, and most days I don’t know how to navigate. I feel, even 11 years in, like I have no idea what I’m doing. On my best days, I’m sorta kinda doing it right, and on my worst, I feel like a terrible failure. The strangest part is that I can feel like both within the span of one hour. Parenting is that weird.
Y’all, I don’t have any answers. And I’m probably writing this right now as my own little therapy session, after a series of days that feel like a punching match to my already bruised mom heart. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I drove on up the 5, labor pains and all. I had no idea what I was doing when I tied their little sneakers tight and walked them into Kindergarten on that very first day. And I definitely have no idea what I’m doing now as I’m trying to sail the rough waters of middle school, with the complicated overlap of social, educational, and emotional situations.
I’m still that same scared girl, wondering what on earth she has gotten herself into. I’m just not standing in a diaper aisle anymore.
Maybe we all are, I don’t know. But I’m here telling you, in my most honest of honest moments, that it’s totally okay. If the doctors are winging it, so can we. We’re all just here trying our best. We’re going to make a lot of mistakes. We’re going to feel challenged and stretched and have “Welcome to Holland” moments every single day. But maybe, just maybe, all we can do is love them. Like fierce, protective, go-to-any-lengths love them. That’s what they’ve got to see—not that we’ve got it all together because we don’t—but that we love them.
And perhaps that is all they ever really needed anyway.
Welcome to Holland, friends. I’ve heard it’s beautiful here.