As usual, I’m daydreaming during most of the article until it dawns on me what they’re talking about and I look at Mike. He’s driving, and has probably been daydreaming too, and appears to be becoming aware of the subject matter at about the same time.
At least this isn’t like the other day when there was that article about a gang rape in India. I wasn’t paying attention then either, but this time with a car full of teen-aged boys sitting in uncomfortable silence (as opposed to the regular silence I get to experience on a long ride with a car full of drowsy teenagers after school. It took me a while to notice the difference. Go figure).
I changed the station, but not before everyone in the car had an ear full of the truly tragic and horrific details of the event. I wondered if they thought I was being passive-aggressive and subjecting them all to some sort of statement about the pathetic state of women’s rights on a global scale.
Which is totally something I would do, but this was more of an accident, and certainly not a conversation I wanted to have with someone else’s children.
On this particular afternoon, Mike and I eventually clue into what is being said about the abject misery of those of us who have chosen to don the heavy yoke of parenting. We’re concerned that the subjects of our supposed angst, our children, might take heed of this fact and their respective fragile senses of self esteem be damaged as a result.
“We’re parents,” I say, “and we’re not unhappy.”
“Certainly not,” Mike says. “Becoming parents was the best decision we ever made.”
“It’s not like it’s all been cake and ice cream,” I say, not wanting to paint an unrealistic picture of the weight of the issue. “You know it’s tough sometimes, being a parent.”
Certainly they know this. They’re the people who have seen the very worst melt downs I’ve ever had this side of age three. Parenting has induced the most intense feelings I’ve ever experienced, from a kind of blind rage I didn’t think I was capable of (yes, at people I love more than life itself), to protectiveness, anxiety, denial, despair, exhaustion …
… Hang on, was this an argument in favor of parenting or, um, the opposite?
Of course there’s love too, and for every parenting success a sense of pride. There’s nostalgia, and the most intense sense of fulfillment and satisfaction any person has a right to experience. We, as parents, certainly can’t take all the credit for the stellar humans our children may become (knock on wood they turn out to be okay). Just like we haven’t any right to judge the daily examples we see of people who are probably decent parents, maybe even spectacular parents, but nevertheless have children who find their share of troubles along the way.
Anyone else who has been down this parenting road knows that, despite our best efforts, things can sometimes go either way.
The question shouldn’t be whether parents are more or less happy than non parents, the question should be: did we deliberately do what we intended to do with this life, or – if we didn’t have a choice – did we do the very most with the hand we were dealt?
I know for a fact a person can be perfectly happy with a squalling, drippy, smelly infant clinging to her all day. She can also be miserable while perfectly and totally alone, on a beach, with a good book and a cocktail.
If she’s a recovering alcoholic who forgot her glasses and has an allergy to sun.
The point is, it’s about perspective.
So, Mike and I look at each other in the front seat of our little car that’s whizzing down the freeway with two overgrown boys in the back, and know we share an understanding of what it means to be completely and totally alive and aware and determined.
Parents aren’t more happy or less happy than anyone else. They just are what they are.
And life is really, really good. Mostly.
“Huh?” Jack says, pulling an earbud out of one ear.
“Hang on,” Colin says, “What was that about cake?”
In case YOU weren’t paying attention, voting is a good thing. Do it early and often (as often as once a day makes a difference). Thanks.