Thursday, August 11, 2016

Dear Fellow Parent (and/or Supporter of Parents Everywhere)

The alien creatures I helped to create, poised to take over the world.

Dear Fellow Parent,

Your kids will grow up. They will evolve from completely reliant, tiny packages of goo and complaint into increasingly independent people, complete with their own, sincerely-held opinions, interests that are all but foreign to you, and alien personalities of mystifying origins. 

Yet, every single day, from age 0 to adulthood, one thing will never change: their expectations of you, the parent. The (alleged) adult. The person who knows how to sate their hunger, keep them clean and warm and engaged with the world. It's all you. 

Every single morning, they will wake up, find you, and begin listing their demands in order of priority. Oh, you can deny them, but the pressure remains. These people will want things of you, big and small things, and that's just how it's going to be for the next... for the rest of your life. Advice, food, transportation, shelter, education, clothes, entertainment, money, shoes that light up, shoes that expressly do not light up, experiences you never had as a kid, experiences you must recreate from your childhood... they want (and ok, sometimes, need) a lot of things. From you. You're the supplier of all of the things.

And apart from the satisfying, martyr-like aura this allows us to affect from time to time, let me tell you something. This stuff is a lot of pressure.

I don't know about you, though I suspect you might have a better handle on things than I do, but there are days when I wake up and it's a fight against every cell in my body to not just sit on the couch and pop in a cinnamon roll that I don't have to share with anyone in front of last night's Daily Show. And then repeat that action 800 times, until it's time for bed, or dinner, or whichever I feel like doing first. 

But, no. There will be no cinnamon rolls with Trevor Noah unless they are cinnamon rolls I have strategically planned for like a Union General getting ready for a sneak attack at some antebellum location I don't know enough about because we haven't gotten there in our homeschool studies and I don't remember anything, apparently, from my own education. Am I even using the term "Antebellum" correctly? Probably not. So who am I to even ponder whether this whole cinnamon rolls all day long plan is legitimate? Of course it's not.

Am I complaining? I mean, really, I'm blessed, and I know it. I can't watch a Sarah McLachlan commercial about all the abandoned dogs or pass a freeway sign about being a foster parent without sobbing. Truly. I should be so lucky. But yes. I am complaining, anyway. I'm a people. And, along with my husband, who does even more jobs, I've been doing a job with very few breaks non-stop for over a decade. 

Let's face it - just like the meme says, a vacation with kids is just relocating your regular parental duties to a new place where now there's sand on, and in, everything. A vacation without kids is one sure way to send my anxiety skyrocketing to impressive levels. I think we've left every one of the two occasions we've attempted a childless vacation early because of my worry-filled, hyperanxious brain. At home, it's all matches and axes and rappelling off the roof. But I'm right there, and I've perfected the right tone for making them stop the stupid thing in its tracks. I can't be sure that others have this power I've honed.

It's hard to explain to people without kids what this feels like without freaking them out, because I'll admit, this gig doesn't sound good on paper when you're being asked to stop using the bathroom in private (for the rest of your life), to add 15+ minutes to all your getting-out-the-door times, and your intimate times aren't currently in jeopardy of being relegated to secretive, silent acts that make everyone involved feel a little criminal. Maybe that's just me. 


Yes. On paper, good grief. You know what you're signing up for, in theory, but it's kind of like signing up for a cell phone plan. They reel you in with promises of pigtails and impish grins, and then you get six months in and it's all crappy service and they keep shutting off in the middle of important things and you kind of want your money back, but now that you have a smart phone, you can't go back to life without one. Is this an insensitive comparison, human lives vs. cheap Chinese tech junk that is actively ruining society? I mean, I'm not saying the human lives don't win, I'm just saying that even when you knew this was going to be a hard gig, you probably didn't realize what hard could feel like. 

And yet.

and yet.

Here we are. We made families where there once was none. We are raising people who will do things in this world, big and small. If we don't royally screw it up, odds are they will be people who do more, with less, than we ever dreamed possible. Because kids? Kids are flipping brilliant.

Kids can tap into their humanness in a way adults have forgotten. Nothing is impossible. This effed up society I mentioned earlier? It's not a hindrance to our kids until we tell them it is. Racism? Sexism? Homophobia? Bah. Bah. And bah. Turns out, the hardest part about being a parent isn't peeing in front of an audience, or even not sleeping for a good three or four month stretch (or let's be honest, ever again, not for a full night). 

The hardest part about being a parent is getting out of the way.

This society expects a lot of us, too. We're judged, often viciously, by complete strangers, who base their conclusions of our parenting skills on the five-minute meltdown they witness in Target. It's the message that's being broadcast through every medium possible - TV, social media, advertising... - and it's endless: parents should look and act a certain way, and so should kids. And worse, the message doesn't stop there. Parents who don't, and kids who aren't, are The Problem with Society. As if we needed more pressure? Did you read those paragraphs up there? We didn't. The well of parental self-loathing, the pit of never being enough? Those are bottomless. 

So we huddle, and we hover, and we non-nonchalantly check to see if other parents are giving us or our kids the up-and-down, or worse, exchanging The Glance with another parent who is sure she's figured us out. And if they are? We make excuses. We scoop up our misunderstood offspring and shuffle off in shame. We try to laugh it off, but internally it's just another layer of uncertainty on top of the pile you've been accumulating for every year of this kid's life. Now and then you relax, and get a little perspective, and you rip off some of those layers, but a new phase is always around the corner. When should they drive? Date? Are they depressed? Am I helicoptering? 

If you're especially fortunate, like I am, you'll cobble together a group of friends who aren't jerks, who will remind you that you're overthinking everything and that your kids are actually fine and not destined for a miserable life. "Relax, mama; you're doing a good job, dad," they'll say. And it will help. You'll pull one another through it, cheering each other and holding each other up, and it will all go by in a blur. 

Along the way, you'll start to understand some things. 

You'll understand why homemade cards are worth their weight in gold, and why your grandma cried when you picked the prettiest dandelions in the yard just for her, and why your parents really wanted you to just be thankful for what you had almost more than any other goal they had for you. 

And one day, if you're incredibly lucky and if it's right for these wonderfully complicated human beings you've raised, your wrinkle-creased face will greet a new generation. You're in the business of continuance now, you know. Becoming a parent is a hopeful act in a sometimes hopeless situation. It's breathing love, and hope, into a world that really needs it. 

So, hey, fellow parent, thanks for signing on alongside me. And for those who haven't signed up, but who support us so strongly in this endeavor, thank you, too. You didn't have to abandon the couch or the cinnamon rolls, but here you are, anyway.

Maybe there's hope for this world, after all. 


It's been a year, somehow. We love and miss you so much, Grandma.