Thursday, September 3, 2009

Things They Don't Tell You About Being A Parent

You wade through your first pregnancy, uncertain, unknowing. Every little thing is cause for suspicion, worry, doubt. You've never done this before. Is this normal? Was THAT normal? Can I do this?? Never mind that countless women before you have done it, many a time, and been able to handle it. Will YOU be able to handle it? Other women lurk eagerly, gleefully sharing the worst of their stories, the worst of others' stories. A sort of pregnancy hazing, if you will.

The worry and fear is counteracted by the wonders of life within you, growing, swelling your stomach (and feet, and cankles, and booty...), twirling and swirling inside you. It feels like eternity, and then one day you have a baby. And it's grueling; harder than you ever imagined, but it's also something you can do, something you DID, and after it's over you think 'that wasn't SO bad...I could do it again'. And then they give you your baby, your miracle, and you know love like you've never known it before. Suddenly nothing is the same.

Parenthood is a sort of club, it's true. You don't necessarily get special privileges for entering this club, but it IS a club because it changes the way you see the world so completely that you can't ever really relate to people without children the same way again. Shortly after that first child enters your life, you can't imagine your life without them in it. You can't really remember what life was like before they became a part of it. You feel everything more deeply. Love, yes, love takes on entire new dimensions that you can never explain to a childless person... but so does fear. Anxiety. Worry. Things you never even imagined as possibilities now become dangerous. Walking on the second floor of the mall, you find yourself standing as far from the guardrails as possible because WHAT IF YOUR BABY FELL? Nevermind that it's virtually impossible for it to happen. Every person becomes suspect; danger lurks around every corner.

You do everything you can to nurture that child. Breastfeeding is so much harder than they ever told you it would be... and everyone told you it wouldn't be easy. You try everything, and eventually you give up, frustrated. You go back to work in six weeks... six weeks that seemed like they'd be FOREVER when you were pregnant. You'd be home and you'd love your baby and when your baby napped, you'd get so much done! All those projects you didn't finish before baby came! But that six weeks FLIES by. You still haven't mastered breastfeeding with baby, and suddenly you have to leave baby for more than 8 hours a day. It kills you. It hurts to leave so much more than you ever thought it would. There are tears, most of them yours. You try so hard to pump at work but it never takes, and you give up after a month, frustrated. You've produced more tears than breastmilk at this point.

Those first years go faster than you ever imagined... pregnancy, so interminable when it is happening, seems (in retrospect) like it just flew by. All those first milestones, gone in the blink of an eye. You have another baby, shortly after your first one turns two. The first was such a good baby, so easy, so full of joy and accomplishment, so smart, the best baby in the world, no one else has a baby that is as amazing as yours. So you have another. You worry less during this pregnancy; after all you've done it before. You know what to expect. They're all different, and you get a few curveballs, but nothing you can't handle. Labor comes and you are quickly reminded how much it sucks, but you make it through and here is your second child. Your second child, you think in your private heart, is quite funny looking. You worry that your baby is ugly. You worry that you're a terrible person for thinking you have an ugly baby. You love your baby anyway, and as it turns out, your baby really isn't ugly at all, at least not after the first month or so. Your baby is adorable, and full of personality.

Your first was so easy, you thought the second would be too. And the baby is a good, easy baby. Integrating that baby into the rest of the family, when you already have a toddler, is nowhere near easy. You're home alone, trying to tend to two young children. Breastfeeding takes ALL your time. And you forgot how hard it was, and how much it fucking HURTS. You only have six weeks, again, before you have to go back to work. Baby number two is a champion nurser, a comfort sucker, wanting to nurse all the time. You sleep even less than you did the first time. You cry a lot. You dread every latch. You worry that you are neglecting your first child because you can't spend much time with him. You worry that he will hurt himself or something will happen while you're stuck tending to baby two. You wonder how people ever manage to have more than two children, because you can't even hack TWO. You cry some more. And somehow, those endless first few weeks smooth out and it starts to work. Then you have to go back to work, and it all changes again. Pumping doesn't work, AGAIN. You get so angry and frustrated that you aren't home with your child, that more businesses don't make it possible for mothers to work with their children, to spend more time with their babies. Six weeks is NOT enough. You wish you were home, constantly.

And the next couple years fly by. You do good things, you do bad things. You have wonderful days; wonderful moments with your family that you will never forget. You marvel at how smart your children are. How different they are from each other, how they learn at different paces, each beautiful and brilliant in their own way. They say pithy things that make you laugh for hours. They are both gorgeous; the second one, the one you worried would be ugly, becomes so beautiful that you can't stand it. Even admitting your parental bias, you know she is an incredible beauty and you worry. Constantly. Worry about the future. Worry about that old saying about people being 'too beautiful for this world'. Worry about her dying. Worry about both of them dying, because it's a parent's worst nightmare, and suddenly you can see it happening around every corner if you don't make yourself stop looking sometimes. You read stories about child abuse, about horrible things people do to their children, and you can't erase these thoughts from your head. You hear them, and you cry for the children of the world, and you cry for your own children even though they have never known these nightmares, because it is too painful to even try to comprehend that there are people out there who would do such nightmarish things. You can't wait to get your arms around your children once more, and hope that you will have all the time in the world to give them as many hugs as you can stand.

Then there are days when you would cheerfully murder them yourself. Days when they constantly pick at each other. Days when they won't stop whining. Or crying. When they disobey you and talk back and throw screaming tantrums on the floor at Kohl's, tantrums you swore YOUR children would NEVER throw. Days when everything is a fight and they get on your last nerve and you have to grab your leg so your hand doesn't reach out and smack them in anger. It's worse when you think it's going to be a good day... when the morning starts bright and beautiful, and your son (now a kindergartner) heads off to school in a cheerful mood. You and your daughter return home and have a lovely day. You pick your son up from school and almost immediately the fighting and the disobeying starts. Every little thing, no matter how innocuous, is cause for whining, crying, screaming, tattling. Playing inside, they can't get along. Playing outside with the neighbors, they fight and get hurt and swear everyone is hurting everyone else on purpose, even though you're pretty sure all the wounds have been accidental. If one isn't crying, the other one is. Frustrated, you decide to take them to McD's for dinner... you won't have to cook and they can play in the playplace. Everyone wins. But even this is cause for contention and crying. 'We don't WANT to go to McD's, we want to PLAY OUTSIDE!!' Except playing outside is threatening Mommy's sanity, so you force them into the car for McD's anyway, feeling like you've entered some bizarro world where you have to FORCE children to go to MCDONALD'S and SHUT UP AND HAVE SOME FUCKING FUN ALREADY. Your head spins as you drive, feeling as if you should punish your children for bad behavior but knowing your husband is working late and you'll have them to yourself all night and you just need a little break because it's only been two hours since school ended but it was two hours of endless crying, fighting and whining, and you just can't take it anymore.

And at McD's you find a little bit of peace. Ironically. It's dinnertime and virtually no one is there. It's quiet. Your children, who spent the last half hour protesting the playplace, now can't wait to play. They have fun. There's no whining, no crying, no fighting. You have a book. They are corralled and can't get out. It's amazing. You were only going to stay a half hour but you let it stretch to almost an hour and a half because it's so damn nice. Nothing is getting accomplished at home, but who cares? There's no whining! Crying! Fighting! Screaming! At the very end, it starts again, and you make them leave. There is a lot more crying as you compel your children to put their shoes on and get out and into the car. There is crying and bickering all the way home. It's a five minute drive but you feel like you might lose your mind again. How do people DO this, day in and day out?? (If you ever want to torture someone, put them in charge of two screaming, fighting, whining children. That will do it for sure. You'll have a full confession within 15 minutes, even if they didn't do it.) You get them home, and decide that an early bedtime is necessary. You're ready to snap, but somewhere in the back of your brain your rational mind is whispering to you that they're overtired, they need rest, and early bedtime will help you stay sane too. They lose story privileges because they aren't listening to a damn word you say. You're almost ready to break out the spanking hand again, since time outs aren't working, but then you think of the children who are abused, the stories you've read and heard. It breaks through your anger, your own exhaustion, and instead of spanking, you hug and console your overtired, worn out children, tuck them into bed with hugs and kisses, and maybe you even shed a few tears. For yourself, and for the children who are hit instead of hugged.

And you tuck your little demons into bed, and you love them fiercely even though they've run you ragged that day, and even though they still aren't getting story time tonight. And finally the whining and the crying and the fighting stops and you have blessed silence in the house. Silence never sounded so beautiful.

And then you go to the grocery store one day and you see a frazzled mom, standing at her cart in the checkout line with three little girls, and the one in the cart is crying, crying, CRYING, at the top of her lungs, sobbing, 'I don't wanna be in the cart, mommy, I'm sorry mommy, let me out mommy, I don't wanna be in the cart'. And you know that mother's exhaustion, her pain, her anger, her frustration. You've BEEN her before. But there you are, at the grocery store, without your children, watching her, and your eyes are filling with tears because the little one's pleas remind you of your children at home, and you want nothing more than to drop everything you're holding and run home and hug them tight, squeeze them, fill them with love. Even though, if it was you in the store with your kids, you'd be grabbing your leg so you didn't smack them.

There are a lot of days when I don't feel like I can hack it. Where I sit, feeling so overwhelmed by the whirlwind of chaos around me, and my children are screaming and crying and I'm supposed to be the responsible party but in reality my head feels like it's spinning and all I can think is 'wheeeee i've gone craaaazy' and I'll think to myself 'i can't do this, why did I ever do this, how am I supposed to raise children i can't HANDLE this and I'm going to do the wrong thing, like NOTHING, nothing is definitely the wrong thing to do and yet I'm standing here doing NOTHING' and somehow I make it through the day, again, and I close the day with a bottle of wine and the worries of two lifetimes sitting on my shoulders, knowing that I won't know if my actions or inactions have messed up my kids irreparably until it's too late.

There are so many things they don't tell you about being a parent. ('They', of course, being other parents.) You hear people say that all the time, with a sort of accusatory tone, as if there should be a new-parent manual somewhere. And there are, countless manuals, in the bookstores. But if you read every one of those manuals, you would get a different story. And even if you read between the lines and put all those stories together... you still wouldn't know everything. Because it wouldn't be YOUR story. And because... because I believe that there are some parts to being a parent that you really cannot prepare people for, no matter how much we write about them. Looking back on everything I've written, it sounds like a pretty terrible picture. I had a really lousy afternoon with my kids and I'm closing this day with a blog entry and a bottle of wine and the feeling that this day is one of those many days 'they' don't tell you about before you become a parent. But I don't blame them for it. Because they've TRIED to tell me. I've read blog entries like this, books like this. I've read them and laughed and sympathized right along with them. But I'll tell you what... if you're not a parent, you won't really understand this until you've lived it. I read these things before I had kids, and I didn't. And once you are a parent... you forget these moments, eventually. Like labor pains. You know they weren't great, but you kind of forget. You remember it was work to get to the good stuff... but what you remember, overall, is the good stuff. The good feelings. The benefit you got from the work. THAT's what you remember.

Being a parent is a mass of contradictions. So many moments during the day are excruciating. Sometimes the entire day is excruciating. But the good stuff, in the end, always comes in and saves the day. You know there was work involved. Some days a distant memory breaks through and you shudder and think, vaguely, 'thank god THAT's over', or 'how in the world did I ever make it through THAT?' But it's over, and you've let it go, and moved on firmly into the realm of the good stuff.

We flounder through so much as parents. Even when you know all the other parents go through the same things... some days you feel completely alone. Some days Mr. Moscato D'Asti is the only one who knows what you've been through. Some days you shake your fist and scowl and mutter "they never told me THIS about being a parent", as if that would have made you decide NOPE, THAT'S IT, I'M TOTALLY NOT HAVING A BABY NOW. Next time you think that about 'them', think of all the things they DID tell you about being a parent, and think about whether or not it would have changed your mind. 'We've' been telling everyone all along just how goddamn hard it is to be a parent.

But what we see, what all of us see, is the rewards. And it is the rewards, more than anything else, that get us through each excruciating moment. Not Mr. D'Asti. Not your friends. Not 'their' advice. It's the rewards.

My two rewards are tucked snugly into their beds right now. I sit here and hope that tomorrow will be a better day. But I know that, even if it isn't... I love those two rewards more than anything in my life.

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