We are all told that parenting will be hard, but the hard we know before becoming a parent is so completely alien to “parenting hard.” It’s not that things before parenting aren’t hard, they are, sometimes excruciatingly so. It’s just that most hard non-parenting things resolve themselves in a relatively short time, and there are recovery periods between the hard things, whereas in parenting, “hard” morphs and surprises and reinvents itself over months and years and decades, without yielding hardly ever for rest and recovery.
And yes, of course, so does the “amazing.” And yes, of course, no regrets, it’s worth all the trials and tribulations, blah, blah, blah. Of course.
In the first year of my daughter’s life, it was the sleep deprivation that nearly did me in. Every single thing in life is arduous when your eyeballs are sore from being open too long and your limbs feel like concrete. I used to walk farther to a bathroom at work to avoid having to walk down (and, more importantly, up) a set of stairs to the closer bathroom. Energy savings became an obsession. A few months after that, I gave up all pretense and started taking the elevator the one story up from the closer bathroom.
In her second year, it was two things: first, the near-constant monitoring this newly mobile being with zero sense of danger required to stay alive and second, her interest in everything meant everything was always everywhere. I couldn’t keep up with the tidying and the cleaning and the messes AND keep her safe and alive. Before parenting, you think, oh, well, I’ll just pick up and clean when they’re sleeping. But you won’t. You’ll be so fucking tired from running around keeping them from eating the used q-tips in the bathroom trash that you’ll fall asleep with them 8 times out of 10 at bedtime and naptime, and nothing gets done. The 2 out of 10 times you drag yourself out of bed in a stupor, you’ll end up on Facebook til 1 am because it’s really the only socializing you have time or energy for. Once a week, you will pull it out and do the dishes or laundry, but that’s about it.
This year, my daughter’s third, has been just mind-blowing. The words, all the words that she learned to put together into sentences, and later, entire, imaginative stories. The way she has learned the pleasure of moving her body – running down hills, balancing on curbsides, shaking her hips to the rhythm of music, her interest in rolling out “her” yoga mat next to mine and imitating the few yoga poses I manage a couple times a week. She learned the first letter of her name “T” by her fourth day of preschool. A month in, she can point to her name, her best friends name, and any name that starts with “A.” She “reads” books she knows and tells the story correctly, and often uses exact phrases or sentences from the book. She is so happy, that at times, I feel pretty good about my parenting.
But what’s been the hardest about this year, and maybe, in it’s own strange way, what’s been hardest about her whole life, is that she’s beginning to become aware of just how run down I am. I am almost always saying, “No, baby, I can’t draw with you because I need to make dinner/put dinner away/clean up from dinner.” “No I can’t help you with that puzzle because I’m doing laundry.” “No, before you play with your stuffed animals, we need to make our beds.” “We can see if there’s time for the park after we go shopping.” (There hardly ever is.) “Yes, you can watch another video.” (It’s easier to get things done when she’s watching videos.)
We inherited a huge tub of Duplo building blocks from a friend of my sister in law’s – probably three or four hundred dollars worth. She only plays with them when her cousins are here because I never have time to help her build.
I made a lightbox for her last year because I was dumb enough to look at Pinterest and thought it would be such a good learning tool. And it would be, if I ever actually turned it on and used it with her. Or ordered see-through letters and numbers now that’s she’s learning those.
We live a short walk from a park, and a slightly longer walk to a farm we can roam freely on, and we’ve been to the park precisely three times and the farm once. She has a scooter and a bike that are barely used because there just isn’t any goddamned time to take her outside for a spin on either thing.
For my girl’s second birthday, my best friend and his son spent weeks secretly building a sandbox for her in our backyard. They’d come while I was at work and my daughter was at daycare and cover everything in tarps before we got home and they forbid us to go outside. Tima was crazy about it. We played in it daily for about a month – every morning, every evening after work: “Mama, mama, play in sandbox!” and I’d put off getting ready for the day or getting dinner started to riffle through some sand with her, but then I was not getting to work on time in the morning, dishes began piling up, bedtime had to be pushed back and she got so cranky. So I cut back on sandbox time to a few times a week, and I think, finally, she just stopped asking because most of the time I said, “No, we have to do (anything else).”
I’ve been her only parent since (donor-sperm) conception. I work full time. There’s no one to go shopping while I take her to the park. No one to start the bedtime routine while I do dishes. No one to take her for a walk while I fold the laundry. No one to cook dinner while I relax or play with her, not even one night a week, not hardly ever. But, I’m the one who decided to have her as a single mom, so I have no right to complain this much about just how little fun we have around here, do I?
And yet the reality is that all the undone things, un-played with toys, un-explored outside adventures taunt me. They make me feel inadequate, less than, and just plain old cranky. I am not, much of the time, parenting the way I want to be parenting. I am probably a bit stuck and a bit depressed about it.
Recently, I was torn between wanting some time for myself to rejuvenate a little and wanting to carve out undistracted time with my kiddo. Eventually, I decided that the maxim, “Happy mama, happy baby” had some merit and I registered for a Sunday yoga workshop. I hired a sitter for four hours, and when the time came, I left the house feeling pumped about self-care time. At the studio, I waited for the workshop presenters for over an hour. They never showed up. I opted to spring for a foot massage, since I had a sitter, so it wasn’t a total loss, but I was still pretty disappointed about not stretching and meditating for a few hours. When I walked back into the house, I was slightly less exasperated, and excited to see my girl.
She was in the backyard, in the sandbox with her babysitter. They’d been there over an hour. The sun was filtered by a thin layer of clouds and the air was light and breezy. Tima looked up at me, smiled big and exclaimed “Mommy! You came back!” (She says this all the time, as if she’s surprised I’d come back if I had the chance to run away. Maybe she is.)
Her sitter and I talked for a while. I could feel myself breathing deeper. I could feel an unwinding in my chest and belly. Home, fresh air, my girl. The holy trinity, though the house and my girl can also be holy terrors. The pleasing promise of cooler weather was in the wind. It blew my daughter’s white blond hair into her face. She brushed her bangs out of her eyes, tucked her longer hair behind her ears, chattered away, telling me stories and giggling at herself.
There’s not really such a thing as redemption, per se. The hardness of parenting is always somewhere in the picture. But sometimes, I can ignore it or forget about it long enough to just be with my kid. In this new, post-baby life, it’s these times, in these moments, that the healing happens.
Eventually, my girl sidled up to me.
“Mama, mama,” she put her hand on my knee and patted it, “You wanna come play with us?”
“Yes, baby, I do. And I will.”