Why’d you even have kids Mom? My son asked.
I gave him a cliche, but still honest reply. Because I’ve always loved kids…and I love the idea of life growing inside of me, then watching it continue... Plus parenting has been good for my writing, I laughed. (My kids tease me for writing poetry daily, on Twitter.)
He grimaced. But we fight so much… Did you want that?
He referred to the fact that his siblings had just stormed to their respective bedrooms after battling over a ball. They both wanted to bounce the ball in the house, and so my husband had distributed consequences (phones taken) along with a few unfriendly words, and removed the ball.
Washing dishes in the kitchen, I‘d been able to stay out of the racket, and so I only sighed, not meaning to be heard. But my son, my sensitive son, had heard me. He had read my sigh as a defeated sound, and his question made me feel a little guilty. I’ll admit, I’m worn out. Almost 50 years worn. I’m worn from this parenting thing, this trying to be a decent wife thing, this attempting to be a writer and artist and refugee helper and cook and house manager thing.
But I’m worn out like a baseball glove that wants, needs, dreams of catching the ball, holding it, again and again. I’m worn out under an enormous space of sky, among millions of other worn out moms, and actually the game I’m in is pretty spectacular.
Have you ever watched your family, from the outside? Have you observed how many exchanges happen in a single scene in your home? Steven Taylor who wrote Out Of The Darkness calls this act of observing life “transcending the taken for granted syndrome.” I guess I’ve sort of been transcending lately. But maybe not exactly how Steven meant it. I’m not higher up. I’m lower down, actually. I’m no just looking at the blessings, but I’m feeling the grit. My family has been through tough stuff dealing with special needs challenges, health challenges, online bullying, schoolyard bullying, depression, changing schools, changing continents. It hasn’t been pretty.
So when we’re eating carrot soup, bread and oven roasted potatoes and the kids are shooting their sarcasm, their little comments sideways over crumbs about friendship and learning and hurting and loving and surviving; I see something cool in the mess. I see each member of my family living. I see us exerting needs, trying to unbend, to uncover the truth about self, about each other. This is why I’m a mother. It is my only time to actually mother. It is my only time to live.
Maybe I do this transcending thing because I actually am writing a book about a fictional family. My novel is about a fictional mother and child finding and recognizing the truth, about figuring out stuff beyond the generalizations, the misperceptions of one another. And so when my kids say things like Mom has gone to her world again. They don’t know that I’m not going to another world, exactly. I’m trying to enter the world, to be in the world we’re actually in.
The Child Mind Institute explains that “mindful parenting” insists we must let perfectionism go. Sure, I can recognize accomplishments. But real life is flawed. Real life is about living within what’s true, right in front of me. I don’t want to miss the arguments that reveal my children’s soft spots, the mannerisms that shift, the changes in voice, the evolving taste in clothing, in food preferences. I don’t want to forget how we all teach one another about style, soul, about pain, about faith, about getting over crap, so that we can become people who argue and struggle and hopefully, eventually make this planet better.
I don’t want to overlook the time that my son taught us at the dinner table why the bizarre YouTuber PewDiPie makes a lot of money, the time my other son taught his brother a new soccer skill, under the table. I don’t want to forget the expression of gratitude on my daughter’s face because my husband simply walked in the door after a long trip; the look on my husband’s face when our son asked him detailed questions about his job, his football career.
Perhaps we have our children to fulfill a dream. The Atlantic’s Olga Khazan wrote about reasons to have or not to have children after polling parents online. There are many answers, of course. But maybe we have our children to actively join the question of existing, to struggle, and then identify the beauty of small triumphs, beyond ourselves.
We’ll sweat and worry in our parenting. We’ll collapse sometimes. And then we’ll get up again. If we’re aware, we’ll see that tiny accomplishments are monumental. We’ll notice the smile that wasn’t anticipated, the boy coming home happy when we didn’t think he ever could again. We’ll hear our children express their own gratitude some day, in the small things, and it‘ll seem as if the moon can rise right inside of a home.
I wanted to tell my son this. But he wouldn’t understand, yet.