Friday, May 17, 2013

What they don't tell you in the baby brochure

Parenting is hard, on relationships, on marriages. The pictures of cute couples happily smiling with their babies on those minivan commercials and kleenex ads are not always accurate. Yes, of course, you both have fun being parents together, and as a friend assured me, it is MUCH more fun than being a single parent. [There was a time I considered doing this, on purpose. What on earth was I thinking?] You share the special moments, revel in baby reaching those growth milestones, and share confused looks over what to do with the screaming creature at all hours of the night. You laugh together, so you don't cry your eyes out.

But what they don't tell you is that you will have very little time, and virtually NO energy, to connect with each other. Sex will possibly become a distant memory. You will look in the mirror at your mama body and wonder, "Oh dear god, what happened here?!?" and, "Will anyone find this floppy bag-o-flesh appealing again?" [At this point, dear reader, if you have no idea what I am talking about, kindly keep that shit to yourself! The only way we are coping is by believing wholeheartedly that this experience is normal!!]

Your vacations will take on a Chevy Chase-like quality. You may find yourself at a gorgeous beach resort...stuck inside because your crazy toddler decided suddenly she hates the feel of sand on her toes. You may find yourself out to eat, trying so hard to enjoy the pleasure of someone else cooking and cleaning up for you...but you're unable to relax due to the screaming of a wee babe, who has no sense that this really is inappropriate in a public setting! You may become the person who you swore you would never...the parent who lets the kids run around the restaurant. Yes, it is true. Why would someone do this?? TO AVOID A SCREAMING FIT, DUH! [The neighbor's dinner will be much less disrupted by a little running around, believe you me!] And here's the rub: You may find yourself secretly and abhorrently admitting, "Boy, it WOULD be nice to have enough room, you know, three rows of seats...a minivan." Shuddering thoughts! Not for the weak of heart.

I always wondered how those sad, older couples ended up looking blankly out the window while they silently ate dinner at a b-rate restaurant, while we, lovingly and communicatively, delighted immensely nearby. Well, those folks are probably really fucking tired! They spent so many days and nights focused on and caring for the kids that they literally cannot remember anymore what used to interest them, attract them, or make themselves tick. They just want a moment's peace! It has been so long since they had a decent, honest conversation, that they literally can't think of ANYTHING to say. And frankly, they just don't have enough energy to care. Um, yeah, I imagine...

I made the mistake of asking for advice on the FB for how to stay connected with your spouse after children. I did not receive much hopeful advice. Some folks whose children are quite old now had nothing to offer. Ack. Others railed on about the infamous "date nights." Who are these people who have so many babysitters lined up that they can actually accomplish a date night? Are their mothers young enough to handle two raving lunatic children and can wrangle them into bed on time without needing a drink and smoke after? More importantly, how do these parents have extra money to afford such a ridiculous thing? Do you have any idea how much babysitters cost these days?? If we had enough money to afford an evening worth of babysitting, we wouldn't have enough to go out! And what are we gonna do, have sex in the car? We are way too old and out of shape for that. Ugh.

There was a phenomenon in my parents' house after us kids grew up. My dad would "act out" whenever we came to visit. He was not as nice to mom, and would say outrageous things and pick unnecessary fights. Mom said, "Oh honey, he's not like this when you're not around," as if that was a reasonable explanation. Was he really so jealous of mom's undivided attention on us? I know he loved us! In fact, I was just remembering the time when he hugged me on the back porch in Texas, right before he moved away, ahead of us, to make a life for us in Pennsylvania. He cried and said, "Be good to your mom." It hurt his heart to leave us, even temporarily. But when we all lived together during those teen years, he was often remote and unapproachable. A confusing mix of emotions to comprehend.

I hate to say it, but I can imagine this happening to me and my spouse. If we survive these early parenting years [and we have our doubts], and find a way to communicate again, I bet we will be so clingy for each other's attention once we finally regain it that we will not want to tolerate the children's neediness again. Obviously, this isn't the whole picture. But I am just saying, a lot about my parents' behavior gets clearer the older and more experienced I get.

My husband and I desperately love our children. We want to give them everything...not material things, but our attention, time and focus, and everything we have to teach them. We want them to feel safe and loved unconditionally at home. We want them to have a calm and gentle place to call home. A cleanish place, not a dump. A calmish place, not a life of chaos and rushing around. Well all this takes an extreme amount of energy on our parts. We both work outside the home. And then we work all night at being a family, at keeping our tempers in check, at becoming more patient/loving/open, less judgy/bitchy/sarcastic. We want to give them our very best.

Many articles will tell you the best way to lead your children is to uphold a firm foundation - the attentive, trusting marriage. This is hard. It must take every ounce of strength and consciousness you have. Because honestly, we are doing our very best and we are struggling, daily. There's not enough left over at the end of the day, at the end of the task list, once the wee tots are quietly off to bed, to fawn attention on each other. I usually crash on the couch in front of the mind numbing TV [and I thank God for it, so don't give me any "Blow up your TV" speeches]; husband sinks into the Internet, inch by inch until he is no longer recognizable. He works on his art. I work on my lists for tomorrow. Then there's laundry, endless fucking piles of laundry. Dishes. Playdoh schnivlets stuck to the floor. Sour milk-soaked bibs in every corner of the house. Legos in the weirdest places, toys clogging the tub drain, diapers piled to Kingdom Come, and half drunk glasses everywhere you look. We don't even have time to finish a damn drink anymore! By the time that chaos is reigned in, and I do mean minimally, we flop and beg Jesus [or whoever] to recover us enough for the hours to come.

My mama "job" literally does not end. After watching maybe one full TV show, it's time to wake up the baby for his night feeding [so we can sleep longer later]. And then it all begins again: gas, teething pain, burps that get stuck, too hot, too cold, wet diaper, snuggle me, cuddle me, move me, put me down, pick me up, feed me, burps getting stuck, et al.

I pray for the strength to make it through these early years. I do not want to rush them by. I know for a fact I will miss them, as I already mourn the rapid passing of time. Already too much has gone by and I want to capture it all in porcelain to keep on a shelf so I can gaze upon it lovingly in my old lady years. Already I feel the oppressive guilt of unconscious living. I really don't want to take a single moment for granted. And I worked in healthcare too long to not be aware of the real possibility of sickness, death, and tragedy. I want to revel in these beautiful children, to relish their every moment, giggle and sigh. I love you darlings! I do! [Guilt, guilt...]

We are learning the true meaning of commitment: the plodding of one foot in front of the other, one day and one day, and then a week and then a first birthday party, and soon the baby clothes are shipped off to consignment. My husband, my love, I vaguely remember you. We were not perfect, or seamlessly connected up until the moment of parenthood's arrival. We were not perfect then, and never will be [damn the humanity]. But can we survive this, gracefully?

We named both our children after grace, as we were so thankful for them. I still thank them, in the dark at night while putting them to bed, for coming here, for choosing us in particular to be their parents. It is a precious gift to grow these babies. I will be glad for every day with them.

But I miss you, love. And I pray we can come out of this ultimate Refiner's Fire [we foolishly thought marriage was the fire, a ha ha ha] and still know each other. Or get to know each other again. I hope all these tiny moments will stack up with some kind of gracy-glue to become a lifetime, a family, and the meaning of real love.

These are just a few of the things the brochure did not warn us about or offer strategies. So we pray. And choose to laugh. And well, one foot, one foot...



Charlotte said...
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Liz Beck said...

The sad part about the parent thing is that sometimes you don't know each other when the kids are older and you don't even like each other anymore. So you split up and do the best you can for your children because they hold you together even when you don't want to be together. The funny thing may be that your kids may later tell you that you were better parents apart than you ever were together. You can only hope!

Lauren said...

Honey, don't give up. A marriage and a family can be filled with grace. You are calling out to the Giver of Grace, and that's just what He loves to give. I can see and hear grace all through what you have written. I have been there and sometimes still am, though we are past the baby stage. I know the hard parts you wrote about are very real! But you tempered all of the hard parts with the just-as-real joyful and wonderful parts. That shows the grace in your own heart and life. And the fact that you are in all of it TOGETHER means that there is grace in their lives, too, and in the unique new life which is your family. I think in a way the family has a life of its own, and as such, goes through transformation just as we do as individuals. We can't expect the family or the individuals in it to stay the same, though the process is very scary. But we can love each other and daily show each other grace through that transformation. And when we mess up, we can forgive and seek forgiveness--that's the heart of grace. We know, because we experienced it all in our own family. You may have felt desperate when you wrote this, but I received it as a message of hope and grace for my own life. Thanks for reminding me.
Lauren (sister)