“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” Elizabeth Stone
I never remember a time in my pre-adult life when I saw myself without children. I loved playing house. I loved being nurturing to my baby Mary and my Baby That-A-Way. I had names for my future offspring. At various stages in my childhood, I couldn’t wait to birth Marcia (Brady Bunch, anyone?), Samantha and Tabitha (Bewitched?), Kelly and Sabrina (Hello…..Charlie’s Angels!). In the latter years of elementary school, my best friend, Lana, and I cut a jillion people out of magazines and pasted them in giant sketchbooks, making our imaginary families. Then we would include blueprints of their home, which we drew ourselves, often drawing inspiration from blueprint magazines that we would walk four blocks to our local grocer’s and buy, along with Lay’s Chips, Pepsi and Spree. Those were the days. Families with characteristics, careers and personality traits we assigned. We even cut out cars and matched them to our families. Little did we know, at that time, we didn’t know jack about parenting & families. Boy, have we since learned! (I didn’t come away from those experiences empty-handed though. I still don’t like to see a house plan where a hallway ends abruptly with a wall…..)
Lana was a year older than I was and started her family much earlier than I did. I remember her saying, when we were forming our imaginary families, that she just didn’t want kids with red hair. I thought she was crazy for even thinking that might happen. She was blond and her boyfriend (who later became her husband) had a thick mane of dark brown hair. Lana had a maternal drive and instinct like no one I knew. She ached to have kids someday. And she did. Two beautiful carrot-top redheads that she loves with all her heart, hair and all. God does have a sense of humor. That should have been our first clue that no book, television show or doctor could even come close to telling you what to expect once you’re a parent.
I took a longer route to having kids and Lana was one of the first people I called when we got the unexpected but thrilling news, in autumn of 1994, that we were having a baby. Chuck, my husband, and I had talked about getting pregnant and figured that it would take a while and we would be announcing our pregnancy in autumn of 1995. Needless to say, fertility is my strong suit. I got pregnant immediately and we set about making plans to welcome our first child into our Colorado home, which we purchased in the spring of 1995. It was a girl, which thrilled me & we named her Ryder. Wyatt followed four years later in 1999 and Brooks, our third and final, came along in 2001. Having been around the block now as parents, I still bang my head against the wall wondering WHY no one warns you how hard it is. Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference in my ability to handle the difficult times and it certainly would not have deterred me from becoming a parent. The good outweighs the bad on most days. A warning would have been nice, simply from the point of knowing that you were not the first parent to find it extremely difficult. I might have liked to know that going through hell on some days is perfectly and painfully normal.
I had an unusual childhood, especially in the 70’s and 80’s, because I was raised by my dad and that wasn’t nearly as common as it is now. We were close. He loved me unconditionally but I think that unconditional love came easy because I never defied him or spoke out in disrespect. I was shy, not at all rebellious and an only child, which is simply not as difficult as having more than one kid to parent. You don’t have the competition between children for attention, the multiple activities to cover and in my case, I was just content to be by myself & generally occupied with some book, tv show or art project. My dad didn’t have to mediate fighting, dole out multiple allowances, choose which activities to attend, etc. It was just me & him against the world. And I had all the respect a child can muster for him. I still do. I always thought I’d be a great parent like him and although I go through stages of feeling like a total failure at that, I now realize comparing my parenting to his is not at all fair. Different situation, different time in history, different personalities in my own children.
I put the quote by Elizabeth Stone at the top of this entry because although I realize what Ms. Stone meant, I think there’s more to our hearts than this quote reveals. Our children are a part of us, yes. They have our DNA. We feel linked to them even when they are across town, or in the case of my oldest, in another state. But what the quote fails to convey is that our hearts are very much still within our own bodies and subject to intense heartache and pain when our children defy us, disrespect us & lash out. Patience is not one of my strongest personality traits. My clients say I’m insanely patient when photographing their kids and I honestly don’t know where that comes from except that under those circumstances, I’m being paid to produce and in many cases I just can’t unless I wait patiently for the children to co-operate. I wish I had this patience at home and I try so hard but I expect so much from my kids & I react, often negatively, when they fail to produce.
My daughter is sick this week. She lives in Texas so I can’t be there. One of her traits is to always have an ache or pain so I’ve gotten to the point that quite honestly I tune her out. I’ve explained to her that it’s kinda like the “boy who cried wolf” parable. I fear one day it will be something really serious and I’ll blow her off. Today she texted from the doctor and to spare you the details and respect her privacy, things went downhill fast. Apparently she has severe bronchitis & I tried very hard to be sympathetic at first. I do feel bad that she is sick so far from home but there’s honestly little I can do. I can never do anything right in most cases anyway, so I ended up losing it after she disrespected me by calling me a name. After dealing with the boys not turning in homework this week and fighting like a couple of wild dogs, I had nothing left in me. Nothing. I’m spent. I’m not a perfect parent and I never will be. But lately I’ve gotten tougher. I’m stronger about imposing sanctions and implementing discipline. They may hate me now but I have to believe when they’re older they’ll look back and realize we did them a favor. I love them more than they will understand (until they have their own children) but when I ask them to do something because it’s important to me, I expect that it will happen. And it will happen with a smile on their faces, even if it’s fake. I certainly do enough for them that they should return that favor. So, back to that quote. My heart is still inside me and it’s very vulnerable. Parenting is not always the bastion of unbridled joy that our culture tends to make it out to be. It can be ugly, tear-jerking, and brutal at times. We will survive. Most parents do. We’re in this battle together and sometimes it makes all the difference in the world to hear that someone else is deep in the trenches of combat as well. They will love us & look to us for help and advice someday. I just hope I’m one of the survivors.