It is such a good thing that people lie to you when you have very young children, and you ask them if it ever gets easier and they say “Yes!” Because if they told the truth, your own and possibly your offspring’s chances of surviving the first 5 years of their lives would decrease significantly. I don’t know why people lie to parents of small children about this. It might be because the horrible physical demands of early parenting do easy up (sleep deprivation, carrying loads of crap everywhere, existing in a constant state of muscle-twitching vigilance, etc.) , and you don’t really have to deal with vomit or snot or feces as much with a teenager as you do with an under-3. Of course, if you did, you’ve really got a completely different set of issues. No, I think the reason people perpetuate the myth that parenting gets easier is because the reality would just be too much to take on board for at least the first 10 years. And the reality is that with each year of your child’s life that passes, you lose less and less control. So whereas at first your main job is to keep another human alive, when every atom of your body is dedicated to this 24/7/365 to infinity, eventually you just become obsolete. Except no one remembers to tell your heart this.
I’m so grateful that I have one small child at the same time that I have two medium-sized children, because the small one still makes me feel important. He likes to know where I am in the house at all times, so I carry on these running narratives about my activities. Me: “I’m bringing the laundry downstairs.” Him: “Okay!” Me: “Now I’m taking the trash out to the trash can.” Him: “Okay!” Me: “I’m going to the kitchen to turn on the oven.” Him: “Okay! Can you bring me some juice? In a cup with three straws? And two cheese sticks, but with the wrappers not peeled off?”
My two medium-sized boys don’t do a whole lot to indicate my importance in their lives, and that’s fine; it’s not really their job right now. But when my 12-year old got really sad at his great-grandfather’s funeral and graveside, my heart broke a little bit. It doesn’t matter that it is a very good thing to have even known your great-grandfather, that this was an important, meaningful experience, and that the death of a 96-year old man is actually a rather gentle way to experience that part of the cycle of life; even though I told myself those things, and of course they are true, I still wanted to reach inside him and smooth out his heart with my hands.
I’m trying not to talk very much about my oldest son because he’s 15, and can read and everything, and his privacy matters more than it used to. But here’s the thing: he has a girlfriend. She is a lovely, responsible young woman who appears to be a very good influence on him, and it’s actually incredibly sweet to see. But this experience just shines the headlights a little farther down the road of his life, and I can see heartbreak lurking out there in ways I could conceive of only in theory when he was still wearing his blanket as a cape everyday.
My friend Bettina told me that her mother used to say that you’re only as happy as your saddest child. There are probably some self-actualization issues that one could take with this sentiment, but I won’t be the one taking them. All I know is that when any of my boys gets their hearts broken I will want to strangle whoever hurt them with my bare hands, and then lie next to them in bed and watch Cat in the Hat and eat Oreos.
In other words, I will want to make myself feel better. They, obviously, will eventually be fine, and will never, ever, ever know (as my friend Bettina also said), that once you have kids, that’s your heart walking around out there. Forever and always. But you don’t get to protect it or keep it safe. You only get to use it as much as you can so it stays resilient and strong, and big enough to hold whatever life hands out. That’s the deal.
Oh, and Mom and Dad, by the way–thanks.
i carry your heart with me
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
This is all so true and beautiful! Painful, rich, raw, right on.
Oh, this was just beautiful. I especially resonate with the line, “That’s my heart out there…” (from Bettina) and one’s heart is especially full when one adds a grandson and a daughter-in-law whom within one places great hope as well as for whom one also feels anxiety as well as love. With children the love and anxiety grow exponentially. Thanks for another thoughtful piece of writing, Leslie.
so very true! i am exploring the world with my nearly 13 year old, 7 year old and 2 year old. all at different places in their journey, each needing me to mother them in different ways, and each finding new ways to break my heart at any given moment! the most glorious, horrible, amazing, miraculous, terrifying, joyful, serene, chaotic hours of my life are these ones – as their mother!
And the next phase is not any easier! You fight the realization that your children no longer need you to parent! Your children are free and eager to look to the future. As a parent you continue to treasure the memories and dwell on the past. ( this has been my experience). I treasure every time when my children call and share their great experiences :). My heart still breaks when I know that they are hurting… I can’t imagine my life without them!
The one truth not hinted at in your piece is what both the Bible teaches and modern research repeatedly “discovers.” No matter how much it may feel otherwise, the influence of parents is profound well through the teen years, and even beyond. That is the thing that sustains me now that I am a grandparent seven times — with another little one on the way in June!
Thank you for this great reminder. I was actually going to work one of my favorite quotation from Garrison Keillor into this post but it fell to the wayside: “Nothing we do for children is ever wasted.” It sounds like you have been putting that and similar thoughts into practice in your growing family!