This post is dedicated to the several people in my life who are about to, have recently, or might soon bring a baby into the world. For those of you who are reading this who are "veterans", your knowing grin will suffice as a reaction.
Anticipating parenthood consists of analyzing anecdotes, predicting sleep deprivation, planning for perfection, barely suppressed joy, and fear of the unknown. Of course, this does not capture all of the tremendous range of emotions one experiences prior to inviting a new life to join your family and, yes, the world, but it covers a few major points. Experiencing parenthood is another thing altogether. In the first month or two, you realize that anecdotal advice only works with other people's children - not yours. You realize that the generalized fear of sleep deprivation is a pale reflection of the real thing. By around 6 months, all your plans to be the "perfect" parent in every way have evaporated more quickly than your diaper budget has. Your barely suppressed joy has blossomed into full elation (especially since baby's first smile). And your fear of the unknown has simply shifted forward, always staying about 2-3 weeks ahead of wherever you and baby are at this exact moment. Welcome to parenthood. Now I will summarize for you what, in my experience, is a barely adequate encapsulation of the next few years of parenting. Keep in mind two things: My oldest son is 5-1/2 years old (288 weeks, or 66 months for those of you who have young enough children to still think in terms of weeks or months), and he is also autistic. That never figured into the pre-parental plans, but there it is anyway! The age of my children (and therefore the experiences I have had) and the fact that I parent a child with atypical needs (and therefore the experiences I have had) color my view of parenting. Edit these biases out as you see fit. My summary consists of the following two words: Pushing and Pulling. I have found that parenting consists largely of these two acts. Both physically and metaphysically, literally and figuratively, actually and metaphorically, a hell of a lot of pushing and pulling goes on in our household each and every day. You pull the kids with you as you do "parent"-type things (like grocery shopping). You push them to eat things they don't want to. You pull them along to school. You push them to realize their potential - even if its only to speak a word or to create a collage of their favorite things. You pull them away from the TV to see a rarely-glimpsed Hummingbird Moth perched on a wall (ooooh, aaaaah). They do some pulling and pushing of their own. They pull you out of melancholy thoughts of a difficult day by proposing a lively game of "Daddy Burrito" (don't ask...). They push your otherwise-stoic demeanor into fits of near-hysteria over such things as spilling milk on the keyboard or seeing how much water they can splash outside the bathtub. They push your limits of patience while pulling you into a higher state of tolerance. You pull their little attitudes towards discipline while pushing their inquisitive minds towards ... further inquisition. So, like champions of tug-of-war and sumo wrestling, we push and pull our way through the process of parenting.