Parenthood is not what I expected.
I had visions of Baby Bjorns, well balanced meals, family game nights, and children who sought my advice on everything. Some of those children were supposed to be female.
I got my Baby Bjorn. So dreams do come true.
But it was strapped to an aching back around an unfortunate pair of sizable love handles. Attached to it was a wailing child who needed to be nursed. A wailing child who repeatedly reached his clammy fingers into the peanut butter sandwich I was making for his older brother. And into the jelly sandwich I was making for his other brother…the one who wouldn’t eat peanut butter. And into the yogurt I had opened for his other brother…the one who wouldn’t eat peanut butter or jelly.
Well balanced meals consist of my leaning over the sink to eat slightly more chicken than my Weight Watchers points allow in the span of 45 seconds. I slam it down with my eyes on the boys, who still play outside. Because I know if I wait for them–to come inside, wash their hands, argue over who gets the Iron Man cup, and sit down–I will be ANGRY HUNGRY and singlehandedly ruin dinner. Dinner for them looks like white pasta with butter and salt in front of two kids. Cereal in front of a third kid. Three servings of rice pilaf and a small portion of chicken for a fourth son who refuses seconds of the protein because then he might not have enough room in his stomach to finish the entire family size bag of Spicy Nacho Doritos while the rest of us attempt to watch The Voice. During which I increase the volume repeatedly over his crunching until I reach the point when I finally bark, “you may only eat the Doritos during commercial breaks, or so help me Jesus I’ll shove the entire contents of the bag down the garbage disposal!” Because, for the love of Gooooooooooooddddddddd, I just want to hear what Pharrell has to say, but I cannot hear a mother fucking thing over my child’s incessant. fucking. Dorito. crunching.
But family game nights are fun, right?
I married a man who wins every game. Every time. Scrabble. Boggle. Rummy. Pictionary. Trivial Pursuit. Payday. Yahtzee. Parcheesi. Trouble in the Bubble. You name it…he wins it. Here is an experiment in human torture I’ve designed for you. Have a sunny disposition and a willingness to play any game that your spouse suggests. Try your best, yet have your ass repeatedly handed to you. Subject your kids to the same torture. Lose. Over and over and over again. All of you. Year in and year out. Not because you want to…because he is better than all of you at everything in the world. Do this for the next 20 years. Know that the average life expectancy for a man is approximately 75 years, but that your spouse’s male relatives seem to live a little longer. So, see if you can maintain that sunny disposition and willingness to
play lose every board and card game for an additional 40 years, during which time your eyes, ears, and bowels are failing. After losing, try to compartmentalize your absolute hatred for every game ever invented in the history of the universe frustration and be really flattered, excited, and downright turned on when he wants to celebrate his winning streak by having sex with you.
Struggling with that? Yeah. Me too.
Back to the kids who, in my parenting fantasy, seek out my advice on everything. I yearn for my children to come to me with their problems, lay them out over the immaculate kitchen counter, and remain my captive, willing audience as I solve them with the perfect combination of experience, reason, and wit. All over a steaming plate of homemade brownies that I’ve coincidentally just plucked from the oven.
To be fair, my boys really do seek my advice on everything. And by everything I mean everything pertaining to the laundry or dinner. “Is my new shirt clean? Do you know what we’re having for dinner? I said I am wearing short pants…not LONG! You’re not going to make me eat that, are you? Did you lay out my clothes? Why do we have to eat this meatloaf when it’s so…so….so…meatloafy? You bought me these shorts, and they bother my skin! If I eat this, I know I will throw up. That was his shirt last week, why is it my shirt this week? I don’t care if it hurts when I poop, I said I want another yogurt!”
I had ideas about what it meant to be a parent before I had children.
Being someone’s parent in real life…it’s messy.
It’s both full of dialogue and simultaneously empty of conversation.
It’s hurting someone’s feelings and doing my best to win him back before the tears have even rolled down his cheeks far enough to reach his tiny jawline.
It’s forcing two brothers to remain in a room together until it’s worked out and in the same sentence explaining that I will be in the kitchen because I need a physical break from both of them.
It’s having a conversation with your child in which he believes he is being abundantly clear, and you are left having to apply a cold compress to your eyes in the quiet of a dark room.
It’s listening to my husband reprimand our child, disagreeing with what he is saying with every fiber of my motherly being, but biting my tongue so that I don’t contradict him in front of the kids.
It’s so much emotional work and so little positive feedback.
It’s one unwelcome, unexpected fiasco after another.
A few months ago, I made an announcement to B&B. “I’ve made a decision. I want to stop railing against the unexpected. Instead I want to try to embrace it.”
To emphasize my point, and maybe to remind myself that I’d had this epiphany, I hung a picture over our dining room table. It’s a picture my husband shot of an area in Philadelphia that is laden with graffiti. It’s one of my favorite pictures. There’s so much mess, and so much chaos. But, there’s beauty amid the chaos.
“Wow,” he remarked. “That’s a bold one. I don’t think most people would hang it in their dining room.”
“That’s why I like it,” I agreed. “Because fuck most people. It’s busy, and messy. And unexpected. Like us.”
The picture had been hanging in the dining room for a few days when the Verb decided to stand on a chair and inspect it more closely.
“Did Dad take this picture?” he asked.
“Mm hmm,” I answered.
“It’s kinda dirty, but I like it. Her lips are giant. And there are lots of like…words. Hey, I can even read one. It says ‘smile’ on this girl’s face! Mom, I can read it!”
I turned away from the dishes I was washing and gave him a smile of my own.
I knew this was the right picture to hang in that spot. Even my youngest son is finding the calm in the chaos and the beauty in the unexpected.
It was one of those parenting moments when I felt like I had nailed it.
I turned back to the dishes as the Verb asked me, “Mom, who is Dick?”
“Um, I don’t think I know anyone named Dick.”
“This girl in Dad’s picture knows Dick. It says so right on her nose! ‘She…suck…dick.'”
So parenthood is not what I expected.
I said that already, right?