What I'm about to tell you is not exactly earth-shattering.
But money talks.
Even to preschoolers.
See, the thing is, co-sleeping seemed like such a good idea at the time. The babies were happy. I was happy. My husband was (a little less) happy after being repeatedly chased onto the couch; but there were no midnight tears, no struggles to get those little ones to stay in their cribs. And we didn't really mind being extra crowded because they were so darn sweet and soft and snugly and they even smelled precious. Life was nearly perfect.
For a time.
But then our littles started getting bigger and bigger and taking up more room in the bed. Things needed to change, but what to do? We would try to take them back to their own beds - stumbling to the next room with a sleeping child draped over our shoulder - careful not to wake them, so we wouldn't make a peep, even if we stubbed our toe - but they would just appear back in our room anyway, like adorable apparitions. We would stare at them in disbelief, wondering what we had done to summon them.
Finally, we got desperate. "Look," we told them. "We'll give you a quarter for every night you stay in your own beds."
Their eyes lit up. A quarter? A twenty? A gold brick? It didn't matter what it was actually worth. It was money, and they were already old enough to know money could get them places.
"If you save up enough quarters," we continued, sensing real progress, "we'll take you to the toy store."
Little blue eyes rounded in delight. Little blond heads bobbed up and down excitedly.
I swear to you, within a week those kids were cured.
Now, I would like to say this is the only time we resorted to such low-ball tactics to shape our children's character, but I don't want to add dishonesty to our list of parenting fails.
Oh, we have taken several parenting classes and read volumes of parenting books and applied all of the principles the best we possibly could - and I would like to think we have been largely successful in seeing half of our children safely into responsible adulthood. But as the years go by, we have learned one of the most important parenting principles of all.
PARENTING IS NOT ALWAYS PRETTY
This is the single biggest breakthrough we have had as parents. When we brought our first baby home from the hospital in her fuzzy yellow snowsuit to ward off the December chill - in CALIFORNIA!!! - and drove about 15 miles per hour down the street to our apartment, we were clueless. While we were fully aware of the gravity of the situation we had gotten ourselves into and the weight of the responsibility resting in that Graco car seat in the backseat of our car, we had no idea what was in store for us as that little baby girl grew up and was joined by several younger siblings.
We thought if we kept them clean and safe and on a schedule, if we kept the cat out of the baby's room and the baby monitor plugged in, if we took them to their well-baby checkups and bought them new clothes when they outgrew their old ones, then all would be well and they would always be happy and love us and worship us for all the rest of our livelong days.
Okay, all of you seasoned parents out there, you can quit laughing now.
We have since learned our lesson.
We have learned that parenting does mean bedtime kisses and early morning snuggles. It does mean piano recitals and soccer games and homecoming dances. It does mean letting them add the chocolate chips to the cookie batter and sitting beside them in the family car - in the passenger seat, with your foot on the dashboard, just in case there's a secret brake up there.
All of these wonderful things make parenting one of life's greatest joys, and we treasure those moments and don't let any of them go to waste.
But now we know there's more to the story.
Parenting is also worrying they aren’t eating healthy enough, dressing for the weather, getting good grades, or going where they said they would be going. It is temper tantrums (sometimes theirs, sometimes yours), arguments, teachable moments, lectures, messing up, getting it right, and lots and lots of “I’m sorrys” along the way.
Being a parent means knowing your life would fall apart if anything ever happened to those precious little people and that you would give anything – you would pay any price – to make sure they are safe, happy, and loved.
It means learning you’re kids aren't perfect.
And that makes them a lot like you.
And, once in a while, it even means that a quarter is worth every penny.