Since Kick was born I have had variations of the same conversation with parents, older, more experienced parents, of distant acquaintance. It goes like this:
“It’s hard, isn’t it?”
“Do you get it now?”
“See? SEE?! SEE HOW TOUGH IT WAS ALL THIS TIME BEFORE YOU UNDERSTOOD?!!!11!”
These people apparently live to see the formerly childless brought low by teething and diaper changes. The combination of smugness and desperation in these conversations is palpable. “Aren’t you tired all the time?” “Don’t you miss your old life?”
Sure I’m tired, and sometimes I miss things, the way I sometimes miss college, or a particularly kickass vacation.
But the hunger to have something to complain about, especially today, feels needy. I have a huge problem bitching about my healthy, happy kid who loves strangers and dogs and the swings and ice cream. I don’t really get to do that and be okay with it. I’m not in a homeless shelter or the NICU, my partner isn’t an alcoholic or a workaholic or a cheater or a fuckwit. The entire genre of complaint, woe is mom [or dad for that matter] for she is martyred by doing normal things is worse than annoying.
It’s useless, you guys. It is counterproductive. We make mothers into saints once a year because it makes everyone else feel better, because you can shit on somebody all year long if you give them just one parade, because we think redemption and meaning come in bright flashes of light instead of small sparks every day. Saints and martyrs aren’t real, they don’t need things, like sensible work and family leave policies and childcare subsidies and livable communities in which to raise their children. Saints and martyrs accept offerings, suffer nobly and silently, and eventually, just die and go away.
We shouldn’t need so much to share an experience to have it validated, to have crossed over into a land where finally, finally I speak the secret language and understand how hard it is. Everybody has it hard, all the time, because that’s the way we live now. Everybody has challenges and fears and things they think they can’t get over, and none of that changes when life changes, except that the object of that fear is now covered in strawberry jelly and is the object of wonder in equal measure. Trying to understand each other is harder than just joining a club where you’re constantly thinking about teething, and trying to make things better for everybody requires more than only talking amongst ourselves.
My life changed forever the first time I held my daughter, and I am grateful every day for the adventure, but I pretty much assume I’d still be a person if that day had never come. She was a baby, not the Blue Fairy. And while raising my kids has been the most meaningful, profound experience of my life, I can say that precisely because I only have all of my own other life experiences to compare it to. My friends without kids can check off a different box on the “most profound, meaningful experience” form, and our boxes don’t have to be the same to be important. I assume Debbie Harry and Gloria Steinem and Margaret Cho and Georgia O’Keeffe and Coco Chanel all did just fine checking off theirs.
We all have to be people, all the time. And that requires my getting it now, about you, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. THAT is hard, but that is worth doing.