On Parenthood, Bittersweetly

When I was younger, I assumed I wanted children. It was a given. I was going to grow up, get a job, get married, have babies. Simple plan, right?

But suddenly, I’m just not so sure. (About any of it, really, not just the babies part.)

I love babies. Babies love me. I’ll never forget the way my heart melted when one of the little kids I babysit learned how to say “babysit.” “Bye Mommy, bye daddy,” she said, waving her little hands. “Kay-ee bayee-sit.” In that moment, I was absolute mush.

The other night, I was babysitting for one of my favorite families.  I played baseball with the little boy in the backyard — I’ve decided that we may need to bring in an umpire because his perception of what constitutes the strike zone is nowhere near mine. The little girl showed me the things that she’d collected and artfully arranged on a tray next to a bear wearing pearls and a wedding dress. We played “amusement park” in the basement. One of the games involves putting stuffed animals on a person (me). It ended with the cutest snuggle pile ever. 

As I was reading them stories before bed (from a Star Wars encyclopedia), I thought about how much I’ve treasured all of these growing-up moments. I thought about the families I sat for in Chicago, how the three boys told me that I reminded them of the beach, and so instead of getting ice cream my last night with them, we went to the beach to put our toes in the water one last time. That night, they asked me why I was crying while I read their stories. 

The other night, as usual, the kids asked me if I would snuggle them after we finished reading about droids, Sith lords, and Jedi masters. As I listened to their stories about their old cat Fred, I realized that they’re not going to be babies forever. And then I imagined what parenthood must be like. 

Parenthood must be the most bittersweet job one could possibly have. They are so dependent on you; without you, there is nothing. But then they grow. They grow into inquisitive, wonderful human beings. They throw tantrums and wear strange clothes and develop habits you don’t approve of. And at some point, you’re not necessary to their survival. You have to let them out into the world. 

Does your heart break into a million pieces every time you let them go a little further? The first day of school? Their first dance? High school graduation? College? (I always used to roll my eyes at my mom because when I would drive from Denver to Chicago, she’d call me every hour, on the hour. I totally get it now.)

Parenthood is frustrating. I feel like after a while, the cute to frustrating ratio tips dangerously into the “Always Frustrating!” zone and the cuteness just dries up. Am I cute now? No. I’m grumpy, and tired, and constantly burdened by things that will someday seem trivial. (This may accurately describe everyone age 10 and over.) 

Is it worth it? 

Everyone says yes, but maybe that’s because they’re hoping enough yeses will lead to grandchildren. And then you can start the cute to frustrating ratio time-lapse all over again. When the cute baby grandchildren smile and do the baby laugh, you totally forget what it must have been like to have teenagers. 

(I think this is a real thing because a while ago, my mom texted us to thank us for not being sullen teenagers. I laughed and texted back something along the lines of, “Do you not remember the three years I spent as a moody, semi-Goth teen?” Her reply was something about how she must have forgotten. I think we can all be grateful for that.) 

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