“It has been a long week,” my friend said, her tone full of a meaning I couldn’t put my finger on at first. She was waiting for me to ask ... something?
Oh yes, college acceptances.
Last year at this time I could have told you the exact dates that every top tier school sent out their admissions decisions. I knew which used actual thin and thick envelopes and which sent their news online. I had a pretty good handle on the predicted acceptance rates of a dozen or more college, along with who in my extended circle were waiting to hear from each.
This year, I forgot about admissions entirely.
So much of parenting is like that -- you are immersed, defined, all-encompassed ... and then ... you’re not. Every stage (every day) of raising children is its own isolated bubble. You can see others, but you are on your own. Sleep training. Potty training. Toddler tantrums. Homework. Teen angst. Everything feels like no one has ever really done this before. And once one stage ends, you can’t reinhabit the obsessions that came with it. You can remember and share tales. And smile knowingly, even empathetically. But you can’t go back to the place when a parenting challenge was new, and insistent and yours.
I had an inkling of this before my children were born. I would drive past the school parking lot, filled to overflowing, and realize that, for some of my neighbors, it was parent-teacher night, or the science fair or graduation, while for me it was just Tuesday. We lived in the same town, but in parallel villages -- side-by-side yet invisible to each other.
It’s why bridal magazines run the same features month after month, and why parenting blogs revisit the same themes in essays that have a hungry new audience every time. When you are primed to notice, then everything is a revelation, a personal message.
And in that moment, you burrow in completely. It changes you, yes, and leaves traces and footprints. But it does not become the whole of you. You think it will -- you can’t imagine that there is anything beyond this point in time, this all encompassing feeling, or juggle, or uncertainty or joy, just as you don’t clearly remember what came before.
You know there was a time when you were not yet the parent-of-a-child-at-this-crystallized-instant-of-life. You can see that past, through the incandescent walls of your bubble and the haze of time and memory, but you can no longer be it.
This conundrum both enhances and diminishes the advice mothers and fathers give each other. I worry, when I write about parenting and when I lend an ear to friends, that I sound distant. I am speaking of "then" when they are standing in "now." But then I remember the advice I got when I was on the other side, and think that maybe that’s what made it most valuable -- the unspoken message that “this too shall pass, this will become a chapter, a memory, a data point a tale ….”
But what happens when our bubbles are like armor? Are the thin walls between us what all the so-called Mommy Wars are about? We see each other and we think we understand each other, but we are in spheres that do not touch. Are the bubbles also why parents never rise up as a movement and demand what they need -- better childcare, more generous parental leave, more flexible work environments -- because when we are in the moment we are too busy and exhausted, and when we are past it, the urgency is gone? It is definitely why so much remarkable change comes from parents who become advocates -- for gun control, for research into diseases that steal childhoods -- because theirs are bubbles that never set them free.
Most of us, though, move from one unforgettable beat to the next, remembering, but not fully, as we go.
“I forgot how to do my Mommy Bounce,” our HuffPost Parents editor, Farah Miller, told me the other day, after holding a colleague’s 7-week-old. Time was when that was instinct, seemingly indelible, but now her own baby is 3-years-old and what she’ll never forget is potty training and last night’s bedtime tantrum.
Until she does.