When Hilary Clinton published It Takes a Village back in 1996, it didn’t make it onto my nightstand reading pile. In 1996, I didn’t have kids. In 1996, I wasn’t married. In fact, in 1996 I hadn’t even met my future husband. In 1996, I was finishing my degree, had just moved to Brooklyn, and was frequenting happy hours around the city, developing a taste for vodka martinis. I still haven’t read the book, but the sentiment is clear. My question is this: If it takes a village to raise a child, Dude, where’s my village?
We all need a village, if not for the child minding and matronly advice, at least to hear the cold, hard truth. Parents are rarely truthful with one another when talking about how difficult raising children can be. Out there in the trenches, it’s tough. Very few of us are honest about just how tough. Perhaps it is because we feel the need to save face. Perhaps we are worried that we are doing something terribly wrong, that we are the only ones flying by the seat of our pants. Perhaps there is an element of ‘You can’t handle the truth.’ Whatever the reasoning behind it, there are a lot of half-truths, a lot of systematic distribution of disinformation, and a not a small dose of Schadenfreude thrown in; especially among more experienced parents watching the newbies blindly stumble through the dark.
I am here to be your village, be the bearer of the cold, hard truth. Bad news, good news. Just don’t shoot the messenger.
You don’t always get the kid you want. We all dream of what our kids are going to be like. Loving and cuddly and doting on your every word. Givers of hugs and sticky kisses. They almost never live up to our daydreams and expectations. Maybe they’re squirmy or colicky or difficult or challenging or talkative or autistic or ill. Maybe they are a girly boy or a boyish girl. Maybe they look different or act different or just are different. It can be difficult to reconcile yourself to the fact that you’ve got the kid you’ve got, you can’t exchange them because the fit is off. In the simplest of pre-kindergarten lessons, you get what you get and you don’t get upset. The good news? You love them anyway, you love them despite their challenges or differences, love them with a ferocity that will astound you. You will champion them and defend them and go Ninja Spinjitsu Mom when the need arises.
When you have children, your own parents and in-laws develop ‘grandparent amnesia’. They forget the messy, noisy, chaotic reality of small children. They forget that children have tantrums and meltdowns and don’t sit, doll-like, on a grandparent’s knee radiating love toward their ancestors. They forget that feeding their grandchildren copious amounts of sugar followed by buying them things and allowing them to stay up late and have unlimited iPad time is going to backfire. The good news? Free babysitting!
You are going to do and say things to your child that will haunt your dreams. In a fit of anger, you’ll call them stupid. You’ll demean them, traumatize them, not believe them, swear at them. You’ll throw a cup across the room, scream, slam doors, blame them for your heartburn, gray hair and steady ascent into insanity. The good news? They will forget. While you will remember it for days, weeks, months–talk to your priest, best friend, therapist about it, they’ll be asking you for extra iPad time within minutes.
Vacations will never be the same. I know I just wrote about this, but it’s resonating with me. Sure, there is the moment your daughter lays eyes on a life-size Snow White for the first time. There is the unadulterated glee on your son’s face as he masters a black ski run, but those are the 1%. The other 99% is schlepping and arranging, stressing that you won’t be able to find a restaurant that serves buttered noodles and gin and tonics, trying to find the balance between cramming in the sights and stopping for your fourth gelato of the day. The mountains of laundry upon your return, the readjusting to time zones, schedules, rules. The good news? Great photographs.
Your body will never be the same. Sure, you may weigh the same, even less., but your feet may be bigger, your rib cage wider, your hips wonky. You can’t do a jumping jack without peeing yourself a little bit or your boobs are down near your belly button. It’s not just age, it’s not just pregnancy, it’s not just breast-feeding. It’s having kids. The good news? Most of your friends will be parents as well, thereby reducing the pool of single, childless, jumping jack capable females your husband can drool over at social functions.
You’re always half a step behind. Even when you feel like you’ve got it under control for a day or two, something changes and you are starting from square one all over again. What works for one kid doesn’t work for another. What worked at eight doesn’t work at eight and a half. The good news? The constant bumbling give you plenty of blog fodder.
You don’t always like your child. Yes, you love them. Yes, you would do the supermom lifting a car off of them if you needed to, but sometimes, for long stretches of time, you don’t like your own kid. It’s a terrible feeling, but not uncommon. Maybe they are in a tantrum phase, maybe a smarmy one. Maybe they are fighting their own hormones and moodiness and struggling to find their place in the universe. The good news? It almost always passes and you’ll forget all about it, until the next time.
You’ll have a favorite. The Good news? Those cuddly, lovable phases don’t last forever, so like Italy during the war, your allegiance will switch. Hopefully it see-saws depending on who is driving you crazy that day or week or month or lunar cycle.
Sleep deprivation kills your sex drive and your sense of humor. See the pork and salad story here. See the sex stories here and here, oh and here. The good news? By their teens, you won’t be able to get them out of bed.
If someone had a gun to your head, you would choose your kids over your spouse. True, your spouse is the person that you chose to love. Your spouse may be the yin to your yang. But if push comes to shove, you would choose the kids. The good news? It’s not often someone holds a gun to your head.
Childcare is never fair. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule. However, extenuating circumstances aside, no matter how much a father does with his children, it’s almost never going to be as much as a mother does. There is likely always going to be a small part of a woman which resents the biology, social structure and reality of child rearing. A mother carries, births and feeds. A mother makes the doctor’s appointments and buys the birthday gifts and all ten million other little things that keep the cogs and wheels and intricate mechanisms working. There is resentment, and fair or not, it’s often directed at your spouse. The good news? It give you loads to talk about with your friends.
Children are not the best decision you’ve ever made. Not all the time. Sometimes it feels like the worst decision you’ve ever made. Worse than the decision to have that third fish bowl sized martini at Smith and Wolenski. Worse than the decision to major in creative writing in college. The good news? The limits to which you push yourself, the level of self-sacrifice you achieve in the name of love, and indeed, the depth of unconditional love you weren’t aware you could feel usually make up for it. If all else fails, watch your child sleep for five minutes. A sleeping child erases almost every negative feeling you can experience, even the most hellish of days.
So there you have it. My village wisdom. Perhaps in the name of promoting the village, I’ve really exposed myself as the village idiot. Or maybe, just maybe, if we all shared our collective experiences, we could create a virtual village, one where we turn to each other for truths and help rather than pretending it’s not hard. So do a good deed, share this with your fellow parents, so they know that if it does take a village, there’s one out there for everyone.
Post Script: This is my 150th post for Wine and Cheese (Doodles). It seemed fitting to celebrate that milestone with a personal ‘Best Of”. Each of the links in this post is a link back to a previous parenting post I’ve written sometime in the last year and a half. While this ‘mother of all posts’ is not a good-bye, it will likely be the last new post for a while, as I am taking some time to concentrate on a personal writing project. I hope you enjoy it and share it among your village. x, Dina