My grandmother's advice

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My grandmother died when I was 18 years old. As devastating as it was to lose her, the thing that makes me the saddest is that I never got to ask for her advice in my adult years. I always felt confident that I’d be able to rely on her if I had a problem and needed help because I saw how she cared for everyone around her. She was there to lend a hand or call you out on your bullshit when necessary, and I always thought that was so incredible. She wasn’t an overly sentimental woman, but you knew she loved you with everything she had.

I’ve never considered myself to be sentimental either, but I used to have trouble determining what things were worth keeping and what should be thrown away. This lack of filter often resulted in near hoarding conditions. I kept everything from tiny scraps of paper with a note written on it that may or may not be useful to me in the future to clothing that was either out of style or tattered and worn, just in case I may someday need it again.

When I prepared to move out of my first apartment, I was faced with an opportunity to downsize my collection of useless crap. I was moving into a one-room basement suite for a few months before leaving for a different province, so I had to be ruthless in what I kept and what I gave away.

And let me tell you that was not an easy task for someone who’d never been faced with this Sophie’s Choice level of clean up before.

Fortunately for me, the man I would soon marry was more than happy to help me through the torture of decision making, as he held up each item and asked, “Keep? Or give away?” expecting an immediate, thoughtless response as we went along. And with each trinket I reluctantly added to the giveaway pile, what little bit of sentimentality I may have had went along with it.

Occasionally I still struggle to throw away things immediately. Like boxes. I keep all the boxes from every purchased item until someone else in the house gets fed up and sneaks them into the recycle bin, thinking I don’t notice. Why do I keep boxes, you ask? Mostly for the off chance that the toaster I bought two years ago is recalled, and in order to receive a refund I have to return the toaster to the store in its original box. If that ever happened, wouldn’t we all be glad that I’d kept the box? Or maybe it’s better to toss the box and buy a new toaster when the current one quits working. I don’t know. I’m still undecided about the whole thing.

Aside from random and almost always useless boxes, my storage room is filled with bins, most of which I have no idea what is in them. The other day we decided to tackle the bin filled with my daughter’s elementary school keepsakes. Or, at least what was meant to be school keepsakes – things she drew or made that were too cute to throw in the garbage – but had somehow become a dumping ground for literally every piece of paper she’d written on for six years (assuming the bin was full around the time she hit the end of the sixth grade, which is when she started throwing away her school work).

I’m not sure when she decided school keepsakes meant all the homework she’d ever done in her entire life, but there we were, standing in front of this massive heap of math quizzes and spelling tests. I couldn’t help but wonder if she, too, lacked a filter to determine what should be kept and what should be tossed out, or if it was sheer laziness that caused her to mindlessly toss all her school work into this bin each year. Whatever the case, we were determined to go through it with callous eyes and get rid of anything not worth keeping.

Most of what we discovered was trash, but there were a few items that made us silly parents feel a twinge of sentimentality for her younger years. Like the laminated posters she’d made in kindergarten, one for me and one for her dad, with her hand prints and a photo of her with each of us. As I looked at the photo of me and my little girl, I thought about how funny it is that I can so easily recall how happy we were on the day the picture was taken and how I rarely think about all the struggles we went through to get to that exact moment.

When we’re in the midst of the parent versus child struggles we can’t fathom ever looking back and longing for the time our child was that small. It feels hard, beyond exhausting, and like this tiny tyrant we’ve created has made it their life’s mission to drain us of all our patience and happiness and turn us into an alcoholic (because what other way is there to cope with this level of crazy we’re dealing with). But then, somehow, miraculously, we survive and move into the next phase of parental/child battle and realize that, while each new phase brings different struggles, it also brings more joy.

I remember sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen with her and someone who’d just had a baby, who was saying she wished her baby would stay little forever. My grandma paused, a stern look fell across her face as she carefully considered her words. She told the new mom that every stage of raising a child is better than the last, so to not wish for baby to stay little because that would mean missing out on so many incredible moments.

That advice was not meant for me, but it has stuck with me, played on repeat in my mind any time I felt like I didn’t want my little girl to grow up.

I used to joke that I would go on vacation for my daughter’s teen years because I felt strongly there was no way for me to survive parenting a daughter between the ages of 12 and 16. Incidentally, those were the worst of my growing up years, which is how I determined the timeline of my proposed parental sabbatical. But if I had followed through with that threat, I would have missed so many incredible moments over the past four years, not to mention the chance to maintain any kind of relationship with my kid because I can’t imagine she’d be overly gracious with me upon my return to her life after abandoning her for what would probably be her most important years to date.

It’s funny to think that we could forget all the struggles that led us to this moment we’re in right now, especially when we felt so beaten down we wondered if we’d ever get back up. Yet, somehow, we come out the other side and it doesn’t seem so bad as it did when we were smack in the middle of it. Maybe we forget as a way of coping, or perhaps it’s because we’re stronger having survived the parental trauma of raising toddlers.

And, while I still remember how tough the year leading up to the photo of me and my smiling daughter was, that’s not what I think of when I look at this picture. I can feel the joy of that day, the excitement at what was happening around us, and how we knew we’d made it through something tough. That smile on her adorable little face is a reminder of a time we went through something difficult but came out of it feeling the kind of happiness you only get when you had to work really hard for it.

As for my parental sabbatical, I’m happy to report I’ve never felt the need to escape for more than a day or two, which I take as a win. And I’m glad I didn’t stick to my plan of missing out the teen years because, although I would have been happy to skip the moodiness that inevitably plagues us all, I would have hated to miss all the good moments that were sprinkled in along the way. The moments that make us laugh so hard we cry or feel so in awe about what a kind human our kid is that our mom heart nearly bursts in our chest and we’re overcome by gratefulness that we get to witness that smiling child grow into this amazing adult.

As sad as I am that I never got to ask my grandma for advice in my adult years, I’m eternally grateful I was there to hear her words to that new mom so that I could carry them with me as I parent my own child. Because she was right.

Each stage of raising another human is more incredible than the last. And I wouldn’t want to skip any of the hard stuff if it meant I’d have to miss out on all the good.