Happy Fourth of July! July!?! Crazy. (I warned you way back, I would never get used to how fast time flies.) Time to fire up the barbecue, slip into that tummy-control swimsuit you spent too much money on, and pray for extra patience as you keep your kids up way past their bedtime so they can scream under the showering lightning bolts of fireworks we are forcing them to enjoy. Ah, such a magical time! Definitely don't forget to take a moment and thank a veteran, say a prayer for our troops overseas, and shed a tear to one more round of Lee Greenwood's God Bless the USA (I swear, I still can't make it through without getting a bit misty)...this day is still all about being the greatest nation in the world (sort of) or at least being super grateful to God that we have the freedoms we have (seriously taken for granted by us all daily, no doubt).
Parenthood teaches you a lot (understatement of the century) but, one of the more surprising things it has taught me has been all about freedom. Sure, I'm not talking about the "same kind" of freedoms we celebrate on July 4th. Maybe birthing a child isn't a reason to make public speeches or bare arms or pray to God whenever you like (scratch that last one - birthing a child is definitely a reason to pray! Ha!) But, becoming a parent absolutely forces you to take a deeper examination of your own personal freedoms.
Back in "our single days" (ah, that's how we refer to our married life before kids) we would try to imagine how different our lives might look once a baby became part of it. After we became pregnant, we were even deliberate about how we thought of our lives, our plans, our "comings and goings" if you will. I remember packing a picnic for the beach or taking walks around the neighborhood or meeting up with friends for dinner and thinking "Oh yeah, this is totally doable with a baby!"
Having had 7 nieces and nephews born prior to my own children, and a rather lengthy resume on the babysitting front, I really thought as a non-parent I had a handle on what life might entail once our baby was born. (Is that maniacal laughter I hear in the distance?) I mean, I knew that the baby would have needs and definitely alter our routine and certainly dictate things like eating and sleeping that might be at unusual hours. I knew she came with a lot of gear that I would have to lug around in order to ensure her safety and that our friends might look at us funny when we freak out at the realization we forgot her paci or binky or blanky or whatever at home. But, nothing (not even all the baby books, condescending looks or unsolicited advice in the universe) could have prepared me for what reality held in store for us.
Sometimes I joke, "I can't decide which I miss more since having children...my sleep or my freedom?" It might be funny or sound super cynical, but believe you me, it's true. If you thought that a new job or a new spouse or a new house might bring changes to your freedom, all those things combined have nothin' on a new baby's arrival. It's a shock to the system/home/marriage indeed. And, even after a couple years of it, I still find myself surprised by the fact that something so cute and small and loud can determine the entire course of my hour/day/week just by simply missing a nap or having a runny nose or vomiting on my shirt. You can feel like you are about to enjoy a nice, calm evening with your family. You can feel like you have everything in order...the laundry might be done, dinner is on the stove, all the bills are paid...and you have the entire week planned as you think it will roll out. And then your kid shouts "Oh no!" from the living room, covers the rug in throw up, and you discover she is burning up with fever as your insides are telling you to "fight AND flight" all at the same time. (There is nothing like that moment when you are instantly thrown into feeling resentment and sympathy for your child all at the same time. Both leave you with a giant pit in your stomach.)
This might sound depressing. Perhaps you are cringing at the thought of all this or nodding your head in validation. And you know what, that's okay...parenthood is messy and even ugly sometimes. It sends us to emotional and psychological places that we never want to admit (Did I really just throw that tube of Desitin at the TV in frustration? Who am I?) And it is completely normal (can I get an AMEN here?) to have times when YOU WANT YOUR FREEDOM BACK (goshdarnit) and you feel stupid and angry that this little onesie-wearing-nazi is keeping you from seeing that new chick flick all your friends are at the midnight showing of.
(Deep breaths, count to ten, deep breaths.)
You are in good company. You are a parent. You are a freaking rock star with a striped belly of stretchmarks to prove just how dang tough you really are! You endure long days with difficult individuals that make boring-mind-numbing office jobs look appealing. You bathe, clothe, and feed human beings so that they are presentable enough for others not to take them away from you (some of you even do this with grace, cuteness, and health in mind - incredible!) You brought life into the world, you sustain that life, and you rarely get saluted for it, let alone fireworks.
So...tonight...while you are staring into the sky, thanking Lee Greenwood and your lucky stars for all those amazing men and women who help us maintain our country's freedom...let one of those blazing balls of fire (ooooh, make it the sparkly kind that make crinkly noises - I love those) be JUST FOR YOU. Hurrah for parents! Kapow!
You, parents, are fighting each and every day on the battlefront of an entirely unseen war. You are raising the next generation of amazing men and women who will shape this culture and country with a new perspective. Maybe you are even raising the next President, the next General in the Army, the next leader in defining peace talks, or the next Mayor of a small town...who knows. But, each of us are raising someone that we hope makes a difference in this land of ours - and that starts right now.
Sure, some seriously major changes came to our life when our baby "interrupted" our schedule (and she was wholeheartedly planned and extraordinarily wanted!) but, she brought with her a new perspective on what freedom might mean. Now, when I look into the eyes of my precious (probably screaming) daughters, I live in the freedom of knowing what it feels like to be willing to give everything for another human. I understand the freedom of unconditional love when they hug me so hard it hurts (no, really, sometimes it is hard to breathe). And I get a tiny glimpse into the freedom that God extends to us as our "parent"...hopeful, trusting, proud, honored, and so so excited at the potential that awaits them.
Rock Stars and Belly Stripes Forever...
Happy Fourth, Parents!