Parenting, Lesson One
Diary excerpt. New Jersey, my living room, my head, 2011:
Oh my god, I am so bored. My brain is useless.
“Vroom! Vroom! Crash!”
“Oh, my gosh! we’re sisters!”
I loathe you, Barbie. Bad parenting, right here.
Wow, she’s beautiful. My daughter is so beautiful. How did that happen? So innocent, it’s breaking my heart. Someone will break her heart one day. Parenting the the worst. Job. Ever. Helpless.
“Guys! No Fighting!”
They have no clue how much I love them. By the time they figure it out, I’ll be old. Really old.
I hate it here. I hate it here. I HATE it here. But the schools are great. The kids seem happy. Wouldn’t they be happier if I was happy?
Which example do I set? The one of selflessness or the one about being responsible for my own life, building my own happiness?
Moving is such a gamble. I hate gambling. Hate.
Did he just dance?
“Are you dancing? Awesome!”
He danced. He’s a goofy, talented, sweet genius, that boy! He’s so tender. so loving. I cannot believe how much I love him.
Poor guy is tired. Why doesn’t he sleep more? I’m a shitty parent. He needs more sleep.
My kids are s well behaved. I’m doing something right, but what? Everyone says I’m doing a good job. Which part am I good at? Not the yelling. I yell. Probably screwing them up.
I wish I had a maid/cook/nanny. Never mind. No nanny. I hate leaving them with someone else. I wish there were three of me. Then I’d get stuff done.
“GO TO YOUR ROOM!”
“It’s okay. You’re fine. Shhhhh….”
I’m so very lucky. I know that. Too lucky. I have so much to loose. It scares the shit out of me.
I need to live forever. I should call my mom. I miss my sister/brother/parents.
I wasn’t there enough for my nieces/nephews. I had no idea how hard it is to be a parent. I was so stupid.
“Rod Torque Redline is fine. No, he’s ok.”
“Can our Barbies do something besides go to a dance or move to NYC?”
“Yes, you have school tomorrow.”
“Don’t cry. There’s no reason to cry.”
“You MADE this?”
She loves art! Yay!
“You made this? I love it!”
I have to teach him how to hold a crayon. I think he should know how to do that by now. He can tell jokes and remember everything I say but he can’t hold a crayon? WTF?
He’s only 3. He’s only 3.
If we go somewhere else, I’d have to homeschool. Homeschool is best anyway. But it would kill me. They’d hate me. I’m not equipped. I’d fail. Shit. Calculation and tough skin work in a corporate career, but not at home. I’d be militant. I’d be the worst of my parents.
“Because TV is bad for your brain.”
“Because candy isn’t good for your body.”
“Because it’s not nice.”
It would be nice to go out alone for dinner.
Somewhere else. Far. Maybe southern France.
Maybe we should move there. Why not?
Huh. I’ve lost/gained weight. Weird.
Look how tall my kids are. Growing up so fast. To fast. STOP GROWING up! Don’t grow away!
They’re amazing. My kids are amazing. I can’t believe how kind they are.
This is so beautiful, it hurts.
Being a parent is hard.
I stated the obvious to my husband one morning during a long overdue cry. My five year old son had darted into the street in front of his elementary school and came within inches of getting hit by an SUV. The thought of him being hurt, or worse, of him being gone was too much. My nerves were shot.
I never liked babysitting when I was a teenager. I didn’t mind doing childcare as a profession, in a facility, with proper breaks and other staff around. But having the responsibility of a child all by myself was unsettling. I loved kids, but being a guardian, even a temporary one, was frightening. A job like this, I thought, is better left to the girls who toted around those Cabbage Patch kids, girls who just *knew* they would have two children and live in a perfect house with the perfect husband. My idea of perfection was three days in a remote jungle with a camera, something to write with and an editor at the end of crackly telephone line telling me NBC awaited my report.
But I am a parent. I’m a 43 year old wife and mother of two kids in elementary school. Truth be told, this change in plans is probably the best thing that ever happened to me. It’s definitely more of a challenge.
Some people are made for parenting, I think. I see them shake off their kids scraped knees and tears with hardly a glance in their general direction. “Toughing her up”, the mom says with an experts smile. The kid calms herself and heads back out to the play structure with the confidence of an olympic gold medalist. These are the same parents whose children will eventually take all AP classes in high school while managing their track, cheer, church, football, basketball and Humane Society Volunteer schedules. They are everywhere. All the time. When I see on Facebook that their whole family had dinner at home I am thinking, You ordered take out, right? No way you had the time to cook that! And maybe I am angry with them a little too, because… well, because WTF? WHY?
Parenting, for me, is the ultimate test of endurance. It’s not about the endless food prep or the laundry or even the sad and sudden exit from the world of fashion that happened to me the moment I went into labour that rainy March day in 2006. The real kicker about being a parent is the unavoidable, mind-numbing conversations and tasks I must now participate in every day. Over and over and over. Worse, those moments, that can only be compared to prisoner of war tactics meant to destroy a persons identity, are peppered with nearly unbearable shards of beautiful light and clarity, better than unicorns farting rainbows and unlimited spa treatments. A month of teetering between these two contrasts is enough to drive most people mad. I have signed up for no less than 21 years of this life.
The truest irony you will ever find in life, aside from the fact that going into a lifetime of debt for a good education and calling is called a “freedom”, is that newborn babies are given to anyone regardless of intelligence, financial stability, family history, and physical or emotional health. Then, upon receipt of that baby, two basic human needs are unavailable to this caregiver; sleep and social interaction. Then, said person is left, mostly alone, to teach that baby how to become a brilliant, happy, healthy, person who contributes positively to society.
Please don’t tell me that grandparents help. Please don’t cite childcare. And, for reasons of sheer decency, don’t tell me aunts, uncles and friends are a “blessing”. In my 34 years before being a mom, I have never stayed over anyone’s house longer than 4 hours, caring for their child while they slept. Though I love my kids grandparents and they have been great babysitters, even if a parent does get a decent break, it is never on a regular basis, never something than can be relied upon long enough for sanity to return.
I awkwardly joke that before becoming a mother I held every job one can have. “What did I NOT do?”, I laugh. File clerk, preschool teacher, assistant restaurant manager, artist manager, copywriter, legal assistant, promotions manager, director of development, minister, executive assistant, poet, music critic, retail manager, private investigator, bike shop assistant, lawn maintenance, humanitarian aide worker, bank custody ops trainer, songwriter, to name a few. There was a lot of managing and training going on there. Yet, as soon as my first child was placed at my breast, I knew that, had interviewed for this job, I would have never have been labeled “overqualified”.
So, I roll with it. Against my nature, I have learned to skip, my friend. At times, I excel, knowing that after eight years of mothering, these kids are my best project ever, if only, because I have stuck with it so long. I bask in those moments that I am drunk with my kids happiness. There is no high, not drugs, not sex, not fame, nothing as mind blowing as this. And when I lack sleep and yell stupid things that only the worst mother in the world would say, I hang on for dear life to the phrase, “This too, shall pass.” Then I replay in my mind the times when perfectly wonderful women have told me that many days of their mothering time were beyond horrible.
The pendulum swings hard and fast when you are a parent. It is adorable when new or soon to be parents think they are prepared. So, to all of you new to the gig or blindly making your 400th batch of pizza bagels with Moxie Girls at your side, I’m hoping my years of managing and training and verbalizing can give you a glimpse of reality. The reality is that being a parent, if you are doing it right, is devastating and thrilling. You are going to simultaneously love it and hate it. Equal parts shitty and beautiful, sometimes at the exact same moment. Anyone who tells you otherwise, just happens to be in a phase of good or bad. The pendulum does not stop swinging unless you stop parenting. If you are smart, you will cherish the good times because they really are incredible. But you will also remember the crappy times so that you might one day be a good friend or aunt or grandparent to those still in the muck of tough days.
When people tell me my kids are good or well adjusted or happy, I shine inside like I just won an Academy Award. I have a list a mile long of people I want to thank, for sure. But I also know that I’m still in the middle of it. Being broken and rebuilt, broken and rebuilt, over and over again, that’s what my life is. That’s parenting.
That’s the truth.