I was, without a doubt, the best parent. My kids had the perfect routine, they ate the most nutritious foods and were always dressed properly and behaved perfectly. I knew exactly how to respond to their behaviors whether it was a tantrum or crying or whining about dinner.

And then I actually had kids.

Planning for children is the easy part. Imagining all of the tools you will utilize to raise them, envisioning the strategies and buying the products to make all the dreams of raising wonderful children come true is exciting. Then, almost exactly from the moment I went into labor nothing went as planned.

I wanted a drug-free birth with my first; I ended up loaded up on Pitocin and then a subsequent epidural. I was going to breast feed because I had always heard of the benefits of breast milk and would feed my son nothing else. But because he was four weeks early he had a very weak latch and breastfeeding was nothing but a struggle. I assumed I was supposed to know what to do alone so I ignored the calls of the lactation consultants (I don’t recommend doing this). I failed miserably and ended up exclusively pumping for four months before I switched to formula to save my sanity.

I didn’t think I was going to become depressed post-partum like so many of my friends warned me about because I had struggled with infertility and had waited so long for this pregnancy. I thought my longing for this child would override those pesky baby blues. Yet I had a severe case of post-partum depression for an entire year. I lied on all of the medical forms that essentially asked “are you ok?” I wish the doctors had looked me in the eyes and asked me, because I would have broken down into a blubbering mess.

Ultimately I survived all of that with the support of my incredible husband and I could finally breathe again for a while. My son started to sleep through the night and was growing well and I was feeling better. But here’s what the parenting books don’t always highlight in big giant bold letters. Some children will have experiences like night terrors. That’s a fairly descriptive name in itself. My son had those quite consistently for almost two years, and oddly enough, his last one was the morning my water broke with our second baby.

My experience with my daughter was completely different from the start of her life. I absolutely did get to experience an un-medicated birth, but not really by choice as my labor was a swift 1 hour and 37 minutes. There was a moment when I suddenly stopped mid-breath and thought “oh, that’s what they mean when they say the ring of fire!” I felt her head crowning and couldn’t do a thing about it, and barely held her in for the doctor to arrive. I felt the immediate rush of love and emotion as they laid her pink little body onto my chest, unlike the numb almost dissociated feeling I had the first time around.

You expect that you’ve raised one child for 3 years you should know how to handle things for the second. But as I quickly learned, every child is different. What worked for my son did not work at all for my daughter. She hated the swaddle which he needed until almost one year old. She loved co-sleeping which he loathed. She loved her pacifier which he never used. She became very mobile very fast requiring us to put the baby gate up at just 6 months old whereas he hit each milestone at every age the textbooks said he would.

And for that homemade baby food? I think I did it one time for my son. There are lovely store brands who make things so nice and easy! I finally got the hang of how to deal with my son’s tantrums, and he responded well to the way we would approach him. So when my daughter began I would speak to her softly; I would ask to her to stop. She would look at me straight in the eyes, and continue to carry on. I remember the frustration wondering why the same methods weren’t working on her. There were times when I look at my husband and say “we could have just had the one kid”. Of course this is a joke, I love both of my children so much and couldn’t bear to be without either of them. I just didn’t expect to have to be stretched in different ways at so many different times on a daily basis in just my role as a mother.

There are some pleasant surprises as well that I was happy to find along the way. I used to live in fear of what I would do when both children stopped napping. But come to find we no longer have to live our lives around being home at the right time anymore. We can be out and about without a care in the world as to what time it is. I was also surprised how much easier it became to manage children who no longer needed all the baby “stuff”. Oh how freeing it is not to have to pack the diapers and bottles and wipes and binkys and changing pads and extra clothes and burp rags.

I also had this fear of how I would love two children, how my love would stretch across two different beings when I had loved my son so much before the arrival of my daughter. The best surprise of all was how much more love I had to give. I look at each of them at different times and beam as they grow into their own, as they make me laugh and fill me with pride. I also didn’t realize how much I would learn about life from being a parent.

I thought I knew what I wanted from life but my children have opened my eyes to what really matters. My favorite days are the ones we spend playing board games and having picnics. Life isn’t about the vacations or the things we own or the house we live in but rather the people we are with, the laughs we have, and the memories we make along the way.