Last night I was talking to a certain person on the phone who shall remain nameless* and I told him how Ralph had stayed home yesterday but today he was returning to the college and that today I’d be “back to work.” My conversational companion said, “What work?” When I laughed at him because what I do is harder than any job I’ve done before he still didn’t seem to get it. I enjoyed some mental pictures of what the house would look like if he, or most people I know, had to take a week in my shoes.
The fact is I work very hard and do a good job. Many people probably couldn’t take care of my children and run my house as well as I do. Certainly none of the childless people I know although there are a couple who might come close. They’d catch up, sure. And I’m not bragging about my (average, really) prowess or disparaging, in any way, those who don’t have a life like I do. I’m not complaining about my work either. I’m stating my reality that being an at-home parent to my children is hard work, it’s inspiring, and it’s full of physical, mental, and emotional challenges that I personally find more varied than paid employment.
Having children is endless. It stretches out from the moment of their arrival in your life until the day you die. As it turns out, having to provide every single meal for two, three, eight extra people is kind of a big responsibility. As it turns out – at least for a couple decades – clothing them and teaching them and nurturing them never lets up for any significant amount of time. As it turns out, I have been changed and I don’t mind at all. As Bill Murray said in a line from Lost in Translation, “Your life, as you know it… is gone.” Nothing, besides complete abandonment of the child – and even that’s arguable – could make history reverse itself or transform the experience into an episodal one. There is no “do-over” or eraser or even a pause button. I think the closest thing to a brief escape is sleep. Even then, how much of an escape could that really be when the smallest sound from my child can rouse me at any hour, often preternaturally before the child wakes and cries or wakes and vomits or wakes and runs into my room and into my arms, to immediately settle?
Sometimes in discussing parenthood it can sound an awful lot like a bore, a chore, a tedium. Sometimes – and this is worse – it can sound smug and Hallmark-cornball like, “You haven’t lived until you’re a Mommy.” For the record, bullshit on either descriptor. I try to think of myself as not one of a myriad number of parents and parenting style who managed the not-so-remarkable experience of birthing children but a person, an individual, who has been marked forever with the sacred duty of caring for another who is flesh and bone and blood of their own. Most parents know this feeling, it runs deep. It’s personal but I’d imagine it’s rather universal. What I know is, it’s powerful. It’s beautiful, too.
I was listening to very, very loud shoegazer a half hour ago when my daughter ran past me, crying at some way her father hurt her feelings, and disappeared into her room. She was gone so long I started wondering if she’d fallen asleep and just now when Ralph checked, sure enough she had taken the early train to Slumbertown. She is catching up, poor thing. I remember the last time she went to bed early (before eating, before bath and PJs) the next morning she opened her eyes in the morning and told me, “I’m sorry I skipped dinner.”
And now; a bubble bath with my son and a freshly-made bed.
* My brother Billy.