roller coaster parenting: hold on to your hats

Recently, at the Terrible, Horrible End of a No-Good, Very Bad Week, I happened upon a reflection which described the tunnel of parenthood: the first five years of raising young children.

Tears sprung to my tired eyes as I read while baby nursed. We are in the tunnel, I realized. The long, dark, will-it-ever-end tunnel.

Finding myself in that mother’s description of these difficult days brought me both hope (only a few more years till we get to age five and know what we’re doing!) and despair (WE STILL HAVE YEARS UNTIL WE GET TO AGE FIVE AND KNOW WHAT WE’RE DOING). A deep breath and another pot of tea calmed me down, reminding me there is nothing magical about age five.

Yet the core truth is this: right now is really hard. But it will get better. My own sheer, stumbling faith tells me it will get better.

(That, and our toddler does now sleep a blissful 12+ hours a night, so I know theoretically that his little brother will someday, too.)

Now, I’m not naive enough to think this is as hard as it gets. I know we have plenty of rough days, sleepless months, and trying seasons of parenting ahead of us. That’s the life we signed up for when these babies came on board.

But the more I thought about the tunnel of new parenthood, the more I realized this was not just any tunnel.

This is a pitch-black, terrifying twists and turns, hold-on-for-your-life roller coaster tunnel. The Space Mountain of early parenting.

We waited a long time to get on this ride. When we decided we wanted to go, we checked that we met the requirements: age, height, medical conditions. But then it took much longer than we expected for the line to snake its way to the start.

So when we finally stepped into the long-awaited car, we were giddy with excitement. We strapped ourselves in, grinned at each other, and slapped our hands down on the bar. We were ready to go.

As the car slowly clicked up the first hill, we marvelled at the view. Look at us! Here we are! I can’t believe we’re about to do this!

Then the slow crest at the top, the instant suspended in mid-air….

And suddenly we’re free falling, wind and ground rushing at us so fast we can barely breathe, let alone scream. We’re whipped around to the right, banking the curve at insane speed, then slamming to the other side, spinning upside down and praying that we won’t plummet to sudden death below.

Hurtling up, down, back, forward; lurching in every direction; careening from one side to the other. Stomach spinning, head pounding, fists clenched to the bar, eyes squeezed shut. We thought it would never end.

But we held on, and we screamed when we could manage to gulp down a breath, and we even whooped for joy when we raced from one tunnel to the next and saw the blue sky shoot through overhead. We remembered that we wanted to be on the ride in the first place.

That’s where we are right now, my partner in parenting and I. Right in the middle of a wild ride that we jumped at the chance to take. Sometimes the loops make us laugh, sometimes the lurches make us queasy. We wonder some days if we were crazy to get on board, and we shake our heads other days that we can’t imagine not taking the plunge.

Living day to day in the coaster’s vertigo leaves me spinning. I lose my perspective as quickly as I lost control over the direction of the ride. I wonder who and where I will be when light finally bursts forth at tunnel’s end.

But I do know that one day – maybe at that magical age five, maybe years later – we’ll suddenly snap to the finish, just as sharp as the beginning. Bars will raise up, belts unclick all around us. We’ll look at each other, wild-eyed and grinning, and realize we made it. We never have to go back and be new parents all over again. We survived.

But oh, the darkness of the tunnel.

When the ride’s just beginning and you have no idea where it will end…

7 thoughts on “roller coaster parenting: hold on to your hats

  1. Very well written description of parenting. I cherish the moments when the ride is slowly clicking up, giving me time to look around and enjoy the view, before I go speeding down the next hill and into the next dark tunnel with unknown bumps and turns.

  2. Oh, how you made me laugh this morning.
    I had one of those weeks not too long ago–
    it is amazing how for one moment you can be so confident in your parenting skills all the while knowing that at any minute
    humility–in the form of a toddler–will bring you to your
    sleep deprived knees

  3. Beautiful metaphor! And I couldn’t have said it better myself. You gave me chills!!! And from my older and wiser sister, it actually gets harder! 🙂 I hope she’s just being dramatic!

  4. Amen! We are there…in that tunnel…It has been a rough patch for us lately as well. These words are uplifting. Every day I feel bad for my first born child because he is my guinea pig. Poor kid! Good thing they usually turn out ok, right? 🙂 Only two more years… 🙂

  5. Absolutely perfect… and the reference to the Judith Vorst book is precious b/c it’s currently Liam’s favorite night-time reading!

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