I am coming to the end of an era. My youngest starts school in a few short months. It feels like a moment. Beyond the tiny school uniform, and the new lunch box and the first day photo. It’s the end of the preschool years, that for me have lasted for eight crazy years.
I was telling someone my ‘story’ the other day. How I ended up where I am today. How one event led to the next, and to the next. The many different ways we’ve organised our family life during that time. The different ways I have prioritised work and the kids. The different stresses and strains associated with each stage. And when you stop to tell your story it starts to make sense in a way it never ever does while you’re living it. Now I’m standing back and looking at it, I can explain why we made this move or that, or why I did this job or that. But in no way did I experience anything even approaching this kind of certainty or insight at the time. In no way was I always able to articulate why I was making the choices I was, or why this course of action, or that, felt like the right thing to do to me.
When I look back, it was all a bit of a whirlwind. Stresses that became overwhelming led me to action. Nagging doubts eventually got me to make a change. But the detail was so much messier. So much more uncomfortable than those sentences can ever express.
For me the preschool years have been raw. Riddled with uncertainty and doubt with an occasional side order of shame. The adjustments have been massive. I have been lost and found a thousand times over. I have been to the dark side more times than I care to think about. I have been bruised, physically and emotionally, Picked up, thrown around and dumped on my head a silly amount.
And I am emerging, humbled by these experiences. More aware than ever of my inadequacies and limitations. More aware of where my breaking point is, and who or what can lead me there. I’m blinking into the light. I’m a bit wobbly on my feet but amazingly I’m still standing. I’m still taking steps forward. Despite it all. Because of it all.
I am a massive fan of Breaking Bad. For those who’ve watched it, you may be struggling to see a link with parenting preschoolers. For those who haven’t yet had the pleasure, it’s an American drama series all about the moral ambiguities of cooking methamphetamine for a living. It features staggering amounts of violence that have made me shriek in horror from behind a cushion, and has left my mind with images it can never un-see. I love it. We binge watch in on Netflix when the kids are asleep.
So I know that there are five series. And google tells me that there will soon be a sixth. But in nearly every episode, the main characters Walter and Jesse face almost inevitable doom. One or both of them finds themselves staring down the barrel of a gun, or targeted by a Mexican drug cartel, or worse. Situations that due to the brilliance of the folks that make it leave you in no doubt that they cannot and will not survive this time. And every time I turn to my husband and ask how on earth they are going to make it alive to the sixth series.
Which is a lot like my experience of the preschool years. There have been times (and there continue to be times) when the stress and the pressure feels intolerable. When the screams and the demands and the whines and the challenges come thick and fast. And my head spins, and I make the split second decision whether to lose it and start yelling fishwife style, or breath through it like a labour pain. And I doubt I’m going to make it. I doubt that one person can really absorb all this noise, and pressure and pain and still survive.
But yet here I am. Still going. Looking around blinking and slightly surprised to still be here. Unimaginably, I am still standing. It didn’t break me after all. And if the preschool years have taught me anything, it’s that being a parent to my beloved kids will push me to the brink of what I think I can manage again and again. And that at times I will feel like a methamphetamine cook staring down the barrel of a Mexican drug lord’s gun. But ultimately, I will make it to the final series. Which is good to know.