The Ambivalence Of Being A Parent: or It’s All About The Tea
It’s been twenty-nine hours since I last saw my children. I’ve left them in the capable and loving hands of my husband and mother, bless them, and am on a graduate student writing retreat in a gorgeous coastal resort. Yesterday morning was hectic before I left, with instructions to give to my mother about where the Epipen was and what snacks the kids could have, and the fridge stocked with food (I have to admit none of it was prepared by me, but at least there was food…)
I had two hours of adult conversation in the car, then a civilised unpacking of clothes, a writing sprint session, followed by a leisurely dinner at 7pm, which is the time I have usually fed and bathed the kids and gotten the first one to bed. Not having to drive, cajole, bribe and threaten my way through the dinner, bath, pyjama and toothbrushing routine was simply an astonishingly wonderful experience. At 6:30pm I was reading an ebook on the couch instead of wrestling a 19 month old into pyjamas (what is with children not wanting to wear clothes?!) while listening to the repetitive adventures of Iggle Piggle and Upsy Daisy. Ironically, the book I am reading at the moment is All Joy No Fun, which explores “the paradox of modern parenthood”.
It’s actually a very fitting book for this experience. I’ve had the opportunity to experience what life used to be like – the predictable, steady, quiet kind of life that allows for long periods of sustained concentration, uninterrupted conversations with adults, and multiple cups of tea (I think I am developing a bit of a tea addiction!) Evenings are not spent in nervous anticipation of the uphill battle to bedtime. Routines are flexible, and life does not stop at 5pm for “peak hour”. Evenings are actually spent taking time over food; food does not end up on the floor. Mornings are equally relaxed; I wandered out of bed at 7:45am today (surely that would have been considered terribly early in my pre-children life) and made myself a coffee, and drank it without a wriggly toddler sitting on my lap. Then I did three solid hours of writing.
All Joy No Fun analyses the reasons why raising small children is “no fun”. It’s unpredictable, messy, physically exhausting, and seemingly endless. There is little respite apart from when children sleep. Small children cannot get themselves to bed; an adult must help. Small children also frustratingly live in the moment, which can be infuriating when one is in a hurry. An one always seems to be in a hurry with children to care for. There is so. Much. To. Get. Done.
But I’m now reading the chapter on “all joy” and reflecting on what I love about having children, and what keeps me from going completely and utterly insane. What is it? It’s partly the physical affection they lavish on me. It’s also the way I am their entire world (almost) and all they need is me. At times of course this is overwhelming, but surely it is a bit of a headspin to be loved this much. Last night when I Facetimed my children (is that a verb?!?) they were both chanting “Mummy Mummy Mummy!” as though I was a celebrity. It’s the way my toddler runs away from me and giggles hysterically in the kitchen, the way my daughter reaches over to me when I come to bed (she’s been in my room an awful lot) and says sleepily “Mama…” and rolls over and goes to sleep. And then when I look at her tiny and perfect face, with eyes closed, slumbering peacefully, I feel a double disbelief at the fact that I produced and am raising this utterly perfect child and also at the fact that she is SLEEPING. (I still feel astounded when I see her asleep, as she was such an awful sleeper as an infant). It’s the way my toddler sometimes performs the simplest acts of affection, like laying his plump cheek on my hand, and clutching my other hand with his chubby little fingers; a rare moment of peaceful tenderness that I will remember as long as I live.
I’m also reflecting on my needs. I needed this so much, to get away. I can almost reach out and touch the serenity, and I am so grateful to be here. The grass is very very green on this side for sure. But I will soon return to my own side of the fence, with its chaos, its unpredictability, and its utter joy. I will look back at this peaceful afternoon, sitting on the balcony with my umpteenth cup of tea, anticipating a 7pm dinner. I love, and need, this kind of effortless peace and sequestered time to think, write, plan and create. And I also love being with my children, though I do find that a lot harder. And it’s okay to feel ambivalent about being with my children. I no longer feel guilty about that. It is what it is – an experience peppered with brief, fleeting moments of joy, plenty of hard work, and yes, it can be boring.(I often describe a day with my kids as “herding cats all day”).
I will remember that it is impossible to know the silence without the noise, or be full without first having been empty. And I am ready to go home an empty vessel ready to be filled with joy (and hopefully some tea). For the most part. It’s not all joy and there isn’t much tea to be drunk. But that’s okay too. :)