Mrs J and I are 20 months into our toughest job. Just when we thought we were doing ok we got the reality check that every parent knows about.
There is nothing in this post that is unique to us; nothing that other parents who read this won’t instantly recognise or will not have said themselves. This post is nothing new or particularly insightful – it is more an act of therapy – writing down what has been spinning around our heads all week.
Seven days ago, our precious twenty-month Miss Jones took a little tumble whilst playing (parents both within a few feet!) and fractured her collarbone. In the subsequent week she has been wearing a sling, taking regular pain medicines, battling croup (a nasty chest infection/cough) and enduring the ongoing delight of teething – her second molars appear to be making their debut. This combination has not been pretty. It has thrown her usual routine all over the place; her sleeping is lighter and patchy; she is off her food a little and generally not as happy as usual. For a very happy child, this is especially miserable.
She will of course be fine and is just going through the same process that millions of children are every day around the world today and throughout time. It is all part of the journey of growing up and all her ailments are routine and normal. But not for her parents.
We thought we were prepared for parenthood. As prepared as you can be. We are from strong, close families and have seen up close how great parents go about their business. We are two reasonably accomplished individuals – the ‘reasonably’ is for my benefit- my wife is actually accomplished – and are fortunate to have the resources to be able to provide the best for our daughter. All of that means nothing when you hit the inevitable bumps in the road of bringing up a little person.
We have been lucky so far that Aoife has been in good health and apart from the odd little scrap and bump, nothing major to deflect us from the path of happy baby and content (occasionally smug) parents. That changed this week – as did our feelings. There is nothing – absolutely nothing as all parents know – that feels so gut-wrenching, sick-inducing, heart-racing, anxiety-rising awful as seeing the little person you love more than anything in the world unhappy or unwell – or both. The cuteness of seeing her in the little blue NHS-issued sling is massively outweighed by the sadness of seeing her struggle to pick things up, ride her bike, hold her spoon and generally be the superstar she is every day of her life.
The barking cough (it sounds like the Flying Scotsman is about to pass) and the painful arrival of the next wave of gnashers all adds to an impossible feeling of helplessness – the provision of love and medicine aside, there is nothing you can do to help her heal accept wait and wait and wait. The hours pass like days; the days pass like years. You make lots of silent pacts with God or anyone who will listen promising to do lots of good deeds or to swap places with your little princess to stop her discomfort. To no avail.
One of the things you realise over time is that not only is this the toughest job in the world – a job with no training, nothing else you can compare it to – but it is also a job in which there are times you are a passenger, without control and very little influence. It hurts. Really hurts to know that you can help only a little bit. You cannot fix her. You cannot take away her pain. Perhaps it’s that which makes it tougher than any job; any endeavour; anything you could ever do in your life. But, like all tough things, the rewards are amazing. Even in this crappy week, there have been moments of joy – the smile that says thank you when you lift her for the tenth time that hour; the laugh when your funny walk distracts her from the pain in her shoulder and the hug that tells you everything you need to know about being a parent.
Definitely the toughest job in the world but without a second’s hesitation, the best. Better than best.