Why does it seem like so much of what you think things are going to be like are just un-true-isms? I wrote before about how life with children is not at all like I thought it would be. And what a cliché, am I right? Yet, time and again, it seems like we honestly believe in our distorted vision of how things will be so fervently that it is difficult to let all of the illusions go.
I like to share my misguided preformed notions with those out there in case you’re thinking along the same lines, and tell it like it really is. I used to think that I would be this central figure that my kids would look to for guidance as we negotiated our days together, that they would be agreeable to me, simply because I’m diplomatic and reasonable. I would show them great kindness, care and patience, because I would love them so completely and understand that they depend on me to help them figure life out. I would oblige them gracefully.
What I didn’t realize is that having kids isn’t like taking in pets to train that will adore you for leading them. If anything, adding children is like adding spouses. Ah, “marital bliss” (has anyone in the history of that phrase ever used it without sarcasm?). The first illusion to be shattered. Before getting married, I had grand visions of greg and I frolicking throughout our lives, taking great care of each other, being romantic and just all around, living the freaking dream. How could I have missed the mark so profoundly? That marrying, living with, and building a life with someone, is terribly hard. It’s trying to mesh two psyches, with two different childhoods and two different sets of goals and aspirations and ideals and beliefs (about money, people, how a house is best kept, etc, you name it to how the toilet paper should be arranged in the bathroom) into one cohesive unit making decisions and living out day-to-day life together. It’s hard. Believe me. People don’t say it’s hard for no reason. There are reasons. Oh, but there are reasons.
The crazy thing is, you’re not done there. I think it’s a common mistake that people think that having children will somehow cement them and their partner together as the guiding figures in a family unit, that they will be the shepherds amongst the flock of gentle and peacefully grazing sheep. In truth, though, every child you add is like another spouse. Another individual. Another opinion. Another soul struggling to eek out a life and a meaning for itself, elbow to elbow with its brothers, sisters, and yes, mother and father too. Control. Autonomy. The human heart is passionate and confused. The human mind is voracious for understanding, and scheming. The human soul is always ravenous for connection.
I found this out the hard way, as usual. It seems like every day my understanding of this gets more and more profound and deep. Like when I say, “Hey guys, let’s get dressed ‘cause mom has an awesome day planned for you but we gotta get going ‘cause we’re gonna miss x, y, and z.” and Ruth responds by saying she doesn’t want to go, cool and snarky as you like. She wants to stay and watch cartoons all day and then she refuses to get dressed and starts jumping on the bed instead. So I look to the little one, the one who’s not much more than a baby, my little Joel, and I scoop him up to get him a fresh diaper, because surely he doesn’t want to sit in his own pee, and he writhes out of my grasp and starts screaming bloody murder. Then it takes 20 or more minutes of negotiating, threatening, bargaining and lots and lots of yelling before everyone has his or her coat and boots on and is dressed with clean underwear before we make it out the door and by that time, everyone is in a sour ass mood and ready to kill each other. That’s when Joel usually decides that he’s given up hope and plops himself down in the hallway, refusing to walk even though my arms are loaded down with all of the supplies THEY will be needing in the day, but just go ahead and try explaining to an almost two year old that you can’t carry him when he wants to be carried. I even try the old, “Ok, I’m gonna leave you here, then. Bye, Joel” and walk away, which I’ve read is terribly manipulative and not to be used on small children that you don’t want to permanently traumatize, which also doesn’t work and just provokes Ruth into screaming and getting hysterical that, “You can’t leave my brother here! I love him!” and I, of course, just end up having to go back and finally pick him up and prop him on my big pregnant belly along with all of the rest of our shit and haul everything, Ruth still hysterical, out to the car. This is where the lines of love and hate become very skewed.
In the house I grew up in, we had a neighbor next door with four children. And, she was your typical Middle Eastern American mother: low tolerance, loud, and made awesome food. The houses in East Dearborn are very close together, picture mere inches, and so, we could pretty much hear everything that went on with their family, and vice versa, I’m sure. We always knew when she had locked one of her kids out of the house, and often heard her screaming out the window at them, “I wish you were never born!” and stuff like that, which might be illegal in most of the country, but not where I’m from. Geez, Greg and I, in our early twenties, thought to ourselves, if you didn’t like kids, why’d you have four of them? We used to snicker about how comical the whole scenario was, how a mother could speak so cruelly to her own children (my mother excluded, of course. But I had a mean mom). Now, I get it. In my head, I sometimes say the same things she used to say. I want to lock my kids outside, just for some peace and to gain back a tiny fraction of control in my life.
And that overwhelming and pure love that I would feel for my future children? Well, it’s anything but. The love is the most intense I’ve ever felt, to be sure, but it is NOT simple. It’s matched in intensity with equal parts confusion, frustration, anger, and despair. It’s the kind of love that, like a mirage in the distance, looks like a deep clear pool, but when you actually catch up to it, disperses into the air all around you, and all you can feel is intense heat.