05 November 2010

the joys of parenting

After sixteen years and four kids worth of at-home parenting, I have some thoughts.

And right now one of those thoughts concerns the maudlin saccharine nonsense commonly served up as the over-sentimentalized vision of what parenting is like. Sure, there will be those moments where you are sitting around a clean table in a sparkling white designer kitchen as perfect golden light bathes you and your well-groomed child as you both simultaneously and without any rational cause burst into heartfelt laughter as he completes a finger-painting project suitable for entry is a National Idiot's Day competition.

And somewhere along the way you'll likely have a moment where you are in your J Crew finest on an Rockwellian autumn day as your perfect daughter smiles a perfect smile perfectly missing one perfect front tooth as she takes off down your tree-shaded lane on her first ever try on a bike and your perfect wife runs up -- her perfect sweater tied sensibly and perfectly around her shoulders -- and gives you a hug from the side as you both stand there in your perfectness and enjoy a perfect day and she hands you a perfect mug of joe.

Those are the easy days. Those are the 3-inch putts -- the gimme's. To offer such images as examples of Parenthood is an insult, as any parent who can't handle those sorts of infrequent and unexpected moments of blissful ease probably also has trouble with the safe operation of a toothpick, and is likely challenged mightily by such complexities as sandals, doorknobs, or crayons.

The days which matter are the ones you don't see shown on those damned commercials. The moments which somehow never make it into an Allstate ad, and never get commemorated in a school PTA photo collage.

Moments like, "when your kid is vomiting all over the damned place."

You seriously want to take your love out for a test drive and see what it's really like? Then try to act nonchalant and unaffected as you are tasked with cheering up your kid in the middle of the night after already having changed their vomit-soaked bedding twice in the last ten hours. When you enter their room and are greeted with that retchy smell which normally -- rightly -- sends any typical human being diving for an exit or an open window or source of breathable air.

I know this, 'cuz I've been there, man. I've seen things. More times than I care to recall, and certainly more than I care to describe in specific individual case by case detail. And every time I've had such rare and golden opportunities, I grouse and grumble to myself "where are the damned warm and fuzzy ads depicting this perfect moment...".

Because it's these moments which really tell the tale.

As the saying goes, "any jackass can be a father -- are you man enough to be a Dad?" To willfully and unabashedly wade into situations so vile and disgusting that someone from the Geneva Convention really ought to look into things to see if perhaps serious significant violations are being committed. To force a sincere-looking smile on the outside even when on the inside the core reptilian base programming of your brain is screaming "AAAAAARRRRRGGGGGH! FLEE!! RUN AND HIDE!!!" To say -- and not just say, but actually mean and actually believe -- It's OK. Everything's going to be alright..." even when deep down you hear your own vestigial child voice whining "I'm scared and I want this to go away now..."

Those are the moments when your steel will be tested, my pretty -- when there's nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and nobody else to take the bullet but you, that's when your character will be revealed in all its weakness and strength, all its clumsiness and grace, all its enduring shame and glory.

"Oh! I don't know if I want to do that! I'm not sure I'm really cut out for that!" some might lisp. But I tell you what: I bet you'll find more to yourself than you knew was there when such a day finally breaks in your household. When the pompous BS is hosed away and your options are reduced to a clear and simple set of options -- come strong or go home -- clarity abounds.

When you put your hands... into a puddle of goo... that an hour before was your young child's dinner... you'll know what to do.

Now, you sons of bitches... you know how I feel.

I'd say more, but I'm headed back upstairs with a new roll of paper towels and the carpet cleaner.

And a noseclip.


Sherri said...

Yup. Been there. Done that. And, if the t-shirt I got didn't have vomit on it already, I'd wear it.

Danny said...

Wow. Beautifully written.

Atlanta said...

I found out I was absent any "maternal instinct" in a bathroom in the middle of the night, wailing child in my arms, throw-up everywhere, me blind as a bat, glasses far away. And then my bare foot stepped in goop. It was a last straw and I started wailing. Happily parent #2 was less useless than me. I learned from him, comfort and clean child first, then deal with the mess, and that's been my MO ever since.

I share my life lesson so that others might not stand blind in goop uncertain how to proceed.

Your blog is a delight, thank you.

Leslie said...

4 kids is 3 too many