Parenting As Ambition

I have a second grader, a kindergartner and a maniac who is about to turn two. My daughter asked me a couple of days ago if I always wanted to have three kids. I told her I did. She said, “Well congratulations. You got three kids.”

I’ve been thinking about this. I heard a woman introduce herself by listing her ambitions. She included “motherhood” as one of them.

I never, ever considered motherhood this way. And yet my daughter is wrong. I didn’t get three kids. I did not struggle very much with fertility issues or pregnancy complications, though I did have a miscarriage. However, my husband and I did plan to have a child. And then another, and then even following the lost pregnancy, we planned to have yet another. We made three people. People!

So why did I not think of having children as ambitious?

In the lead up to Halloween, I saw a lot of memes depicting moms yelling after their costumed kids. Say thank you! Did you say thank you? Wear a monster costume, don’t be a monster in costume.

Why is it, in these eight years I’ve experienced parenthood, that I have not thought about how daunting this task is? Did I minimize its enormity because there are so many women out there in the world who do it? Because people can be totally unprepared and unwilling, and turn into parents anyway?

Why is parenting not the most highly regarded occupation there is? It is most definitely an occupation. But not only do you not get paid to be a parent, it takes more money and much more energy than you actually have, and it re-arranges and discombobulates any future you had in mind, because every day is mysterious. You are tasked to engender kindness and compassion in your humans. You are to teach them to stabilize their emotions when your own are completely out of whack since you haven’t slept in eight years. “You can always be kind,” I can say as much as I want to them, but then you have to deconstruct what kindness is.

We haven’t started potty training the maniac, but we’re already getting questions from the second grader about puberty.

And these are the little, little kid years. These are the physical years. These are the years when we’re all learning how to sleep. All of us.

I know adolescence is its own animal, and I’ll know it when it bites me like one.

But no one ever talks about parenting adults. No one ever talks about what it’s like to have spent the years forming and developing and enjoying and not enjoying your child when they turn into their own person, after they’ve absorbed from you what you’ve tried hard to give to and keep from them.

That’s the bravest, hardest part, I think. To feel them when they’re not there, because they used to be there, and now they’re not.

There is so much heartbreak and devastation. There is enormous love and so much else.

There is simply too much to even consider. There is too much.

Now, off we go to get my kindergartner and my second grader their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. My maniac will wait, with me, in my lap, for as long as I can keep him there.

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