Try Googling “Stages of Parenthood,” and you’ll get about as confused as a first-time dad trying to maneuver his way around a diaper. If you read all the selections offered, you’ll have people claiming anywhere from four to 10 stages of that particular time in one’s life.
With so many choices, it’s hard to pick a favorite, right?
Allow me to make an attempt to clear it up.
The greatest part of parenting is the first part. OK, maybe not the very first part. When they handed me my daughter, who was just moments from making her escape from the womb, my first thoughts weren’t those of love. Kid was a mess. Looked like she’d fallen into a pan of lasagna. I told the nurse, “I’ve got her for at least the next 18 years. I can wait a couple of minutes while you hose her down.”
But after that? Man, what a time. Babies are awesome. You can put ’em down somewhere, and they’ll still be there when you go back for ’em. There’s a special time for bonding. I worked late into the nights when my child was a baby, so there were times I’d stagger into the house after everyone else had gone to bed and head straight to her crib. I’d carry her around and hold her, and if she woke up, we’d have a couple of hours alone together.
That was my greatest time as a parent.
No, wait. Come to think of it, the greatest time as a parent came when she started crawling. That was fun. I’d get down on the floor and let her prowl all over me, she a miniature four-wheeled drive exploring Mount Dad. That was the best.
Unless the best was when she began walking and talking. We’d head off on adventures together, and a simple stroll on the beach or in the woods turned into the Quest of a Thousand Questions. She noticed, and wanted to know about, every little thing. Why did it thunder? Why could birds fly and we couldn’t? Exactly how many stars were there?
I knew everything — at least as far as she was concerned. That was the greatest …
Until she grew even older. I watched as her mind formed right in front of me. Her imagination had no limits. What I thought were blankets and pillows folded over the couch were actually castles with a princess stashed inside. The dogs were wolves. The cat was a lion.
Somehow, her dad was a prince or a knight. I’ll never achieve a higher status. That was the best …
… before she grew to school age. Now we’re talking. She played on the baseball team I coached. We played catch in the yard. We went to Astros and Rangers games together, she dressed in the jersey of her favorite player. I taught her how to spit sunflower seeds. I showed her how to drive my boat and cast her own fishing line. We jammed to Jimmy Buffett together (she does a mean version of “Fins”). Life as a parent couldn’t get any better …
… then somebody jammed a finger on the fast-forward button. Here came the late teenage years, and — never mind. Teenagers. Sheesh. She was mad. I was the dumbest person she’d ever met. The end. Nothing else to see here. Move along.
Except for the long talks we had as she tried figuring out life. Dealing with mean people. Boys. Trying to overcome those massive insecurities teenage girls suffer. More boys. Shopping for a prom dress. Boys again. Teaching her to drive. Some more danged boys. Dealing with her broken heart and fighting the urge to perform bodily harm on a boy.
In hindsight, it was the greatest time I had as a father. Her struggles, and my feeble attempts to help her through them, cemented our bond in a way the good times couldn’t. Greatest time ever …
… before she became a young adult. She lived with me while attending college where I work. We grilled outside together. We had movie nights. Concerts with her friends, with me as the chaperone (running off the boys or, as she put it, “ruining my love life”). We were a dynamic duo of road trips and sports coverage. I kept my stats and notes while she shot game pics for me. We stopped for dinners and veered off the beaten paths to visit lakes and beaches.
We were suddenly best buds. I had less parenting duties and more time to flat-out enjoy her presence. Those days … those were the greatest ever.
Until a boy ruined all of it. At least I thought he did at the time. She found one I couldn’t run off. I guess I knew he was the one because she didn’t talk about him as much. She didn’t need me to help rationalize whatever she was feeling. I saw how she acted, how happy she was, and I was probably less surprised than she was when he popped the question.
At her wedding, I saw a young man looking at her with the same kind of love as I do. I saw her looking back the same way. I knew she’d finally found a real prince and not the pretend one from her blanket castles. I realized he, like me, would do everything in his power to make her happy. It was the greatest …
So my “parenting days” were over. Or so I thought.
About a year later, my wife and I sat in my daughter’s living room in Wichita, Kansas. We were holding my daughter’s newborn son. My grandson. Holy crap. I was a grandfather. I was holding a baby again, this one looking so much like the very first one I’d held all those years before. My blood was in there somewhere. He was part of me.
It was the best of times in parenting, it was the worst of times in parenting.
Why the worst?
Time. It went so, so fast, flying past me and refusing to allow me to rewind for even a moment. How was I supposed to juxtapose the memories of her as a little girl with the sudden reality of her as a mom? I just crammed 28 years into a short column, for pete’s sake. I want my baby back, baby back, baby back … You don’t think I’d love one more late night waking up my tiny daughter for some more play time? To have her small enough again to hold in one hand? Or to lie on the floor while she crawled over me? Or to have a few more times teaching her to use both hands to snag a pop-up? A few more days with her as a kid again? Just a few minutes, before she found and created another life.
Since my grandson’s arrival, my daughter and son-in-law have popped out two more little mini-thems — with another on the way. My visits nowadays are reminders of my own days as a dad with little ones, only instead of hearing “Daddy!” every 10 seconds, I’m hearing “Pop Pop!” They crawl all over me. They want me to carry them as far as I did their mother. They ask eleventy billion questions. We build forts and castles. We stay up past their bed times. It’s the greatest reward of being a parent.
Except for the talks I still have with my own kid. She calls to tell me something one of her little rug apes has done that day, and I share how she and her sister did the same thing or something similar. We’re comparing parenting notes. We’re trading stories and experiences. I’m listening to my own “child” raising her children — and she’s as happy (and exhausted) with it as I was.
My kid is grown and happy. She’s a parent.
This has to be the greatest parenting time in the history of ever.