Welcome to Parenting
The Original Extreme Sport
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
I have a friend I adore. She’s smart, compassionate, funny, open-minded, and operates power tools. Correctly. So when she told me last week that she’s going to have a baby, I was ecstatic. More delightful people like her in the world? Huzzah!
We squealed and hugged and spoke of Storkish matters, the way girlfriends do: Nausea. Maternity leave. Glass of wine or no glass of wine. Modified yoga poses. And the alarming way her belly is widening in multiple directions — all at once.
But I left feeling that there should have been more to our chat. I wished we’d bounded — for just a few minutes — right over gestation and delivery to talk about actual harsh-light-of-day parenthood. Because making a baby is about more than making a baby; it’s about raising a child — which is Way. Exponentially. Huger.
So here’s what I wish I’d told my friend. Let’s call it What to Expect After You’re Expecting:
Having kids is, in every way imaginable, an extreme sport. Rife with dramatic contradictions, it’s the most draining and fulfilling thing you’ll ever feel utterly unqualified for.
First, expect a visit from the Ghost of Judgments Past, forcing you to revisit those pre-parenthood moments when you thought you knew it all, when you tisked other parents for their lack of discipline, control, and foresight: The father whose toddler throws a tantrum in the cereal aisle, the mother who hands her child an iPhone to play with at a restaurant table. Because you will be those parents. Both of them. More than once.
We react to our children physically — not just as they’re growing inside of us but forever after. Before I had kids, I never understood the term “worried sick” or knew what people meant when they said their hearts ached with love; I thought it was hyperbole, bad poetry. But then you lie beside your baby, watching him sleep, feeling his moist breath on your skin, and your ribcage swells to near explosion with your attachment to this person.
We like to think that our children are ours. But from the moment they spring to life inside you, you belong to them. You are their tool for sustenance and protection, for comfort and guidance. Also for your jacket. Your ride to the movies. Your money. Your signature on permission slips. Your ability to make the sandwich the only way they like it. And even for your rules, which they quietly crave and loudly resent. When they are angry, they will rage at you because you’re closest and safest. Because you can forgive them. And you will.
Watch your child closely — watch her discover something she’s passionate about — and you’ll see in her face unmistakable evidence of the promising future you dreamed you could create. “By god,” you’ll think, “I’ve done it. I’ve created someone so thoughtful and curious that the world is already a better place for her existence in it.” Just then, as others look on, your child will unapologetically dismiss your most cherished values and assert her own — which deep down you know is exactly what she should do but which does make you wonder whether you’ve really done a mitzvah for the universe.
And finally, know this: Your child’s early cries will pierce you. They will cleave your brain in two and make your earlobes sweat. Then — I swear this will happen — you’ll get so you can stare at her almost emotionless as she cries. Like you’re looking at a drier whose buzzer is stuck in the “on” position; sure, it’s irksome and inexplicable, but you’re certain it will stop eventually and in the meantime no one will die.
But there will come a time again when her pained sobs will gut you hollow — worse than before, for now they’re the wrenched sobs of mature human anguish. And you can’t fix what caused them.
So will your life be better now that you’re a mother? Immeasurably. Will it be worse? Unfortunately.
Welcome to parenthood, my dear friend. Your life just widened in several directions. All at once.
Starshine Roshell is the author of Broad Assumptions.