I’m sitting with some great old friends from high school, catching up on the last 20 years of our lives. There was a time when we had everything in common, from favorite teachers to lunchtime hangouts to homework due dates. And it’s fun—even comforting—to see how much we’re still alike politically, professionally, socially …
But then talk turns to the way we’re most different: My kids and their cats.
Often there’s judgment implicit when breeders and nonbreeders get to squawking about offspring. But not us. My pals seem genuinely charmed when I brag about my smarter-than-average spawn (whether they find my kids inspiring or my preening adorable, I can’t be sure). And I don’t question it when they tell me their cats are awesome, their life is good, and that they aren’t convinced procreating would improve it. I believe them.
Except … there’s something about the way they say that—is there a flicker of doubt on their faces? a subtle rise in intonation?—that makes it seem more like a question than a statement. It feels like they’re asking me outright: Starshine, why have kids?
And I’m embarrassed that I don’t know quite how to answer. Parenting is not for everyone; some days it’s not for me. I love my kids almost as much as I love oxygen, but I don’t always love being Mommy.
It’s exhausting and frustrating pretty much every day. And if you’ve ever yelled at a three-year-old for peeing his pants, you know that parenthood teaches you things about yourself that you’d have been delighted to never, ever learn.
“There are things I wish I had been warned about,” says a friend of mine who has two daughters. “Entertaining them and dealing with other mothers. No one told me.”
Indeed, the pros and cons of parenthood are the same: It demands the best of you.
Caught on the spot, I tell my friends, “My life is richer because I have kids. But it’s harder.”
Over the next week, though, my kids unwittingly remind me of the reasons parenthood is a worthwhile endeavor.
Have you ever made something—baked an exquisite cake, painted a still life, built a porch—that made you fat-full with pride every time you saw it? Looking at my kids’ faces feels like that, times a million. Especially when they’re sleeping, because that’s when they’re not asking me for food or money.
Parenthood intensifies your existence. Joy is wider; pain is deeper. It’s like living in 4-D. “It is the most wonderful and horrible thing you can do,” explains a single mom whose son recently graduated from college. “But the wonder and joy outweigh the horror.”
Kids let you relive a chunk of childhood every day. Every single day! I’m buoyed by the pure, unguarded emotions that alight across their resplendently naïve faces. By watching them come to understand the world, I understand it better myself (apparently I was too resplendently naïve the first time around to fully grasp it all). I’ve got a front-row seat to the beguiling Theater of Human Development, where I get to see how fear is formed, and humor, and grace. And it floors me.
But the two things I like best about having kids is sharing my shrewd if partially deranged world view with someone who’s utterly rapt with interest, and being loved immeasurably, even when I don’t deserve it.
I don’t know if my old school chums will ever decide to have children, but they’re smart to give it careful consideration. For all its perks and drawbacks, parenthood isn’t something you can undo.
Which works out fine for me. I’m just not a cat person.