“Dinner’s ready,” I yell, plunking down a steaming, homemade lasagna in the middle of the kitchen table. A minute passes. Then another. I don’t even hear footsteps on the stairs or down the hallway. I wait half a minute more before yelling at them again.
“You guys! Dinner!” A minute or two later they come straggling in, bumping into one another, scraping back their chairs.
“I don’t want lasagna,” says one, scrunching up her nose.
“Is this spinach? I’m sick of spinach,” says another with disdain.
“I want chocolate milk!” the little one hollers.
I roll my eyes and let out a dramatic sigh. That’s when my oldest girl says, “Mom, why did you have us anyway? I mean, we’re loud and annoying, we complain and we’re expensive. Oh, and we fight, like, all the time.”
She left out the part where I never get to pee, eat or dress alone, drive endless carpools, make endless school lunches and am required to know the answer to questions like, “Why is poop brown but also sometimes the color of peanut butter?”
“So why did you want to have kids?” she asks again.
I flashback to my 30-year-old, just-engaged self. Giddy in love, my husband and I never really talked about having children or how many or when. It’s not that I didn’t want kids; it’s just that I never gave it much thought. For me, motherhood wasn’t something to mull over or consider; it was simply what came next. Nine months after our honeymoon I was pregnant.
Twelve years later, I still can’t really tell you why I had kids, but I can say that I’m glad I do. Contrary to rational thought, the tiny slivers of amazing outweigh the abundant crap inherent in the parenting experience. Here’s the upside of having kids:
As much as my three girls have a way of pushing me to my limits, they also have a way of swelling my heart in a way no one else can. It can happen anytime, anywhere: when my oldest sings in her first solo recital, her gorgeous voice soaring. When my preschooler shows me the letter “L” she’s so carefully drawn. When my 10-year-old flings her gangly body into mine and says, “I love you, Mommy!” just because. The waves of bliss that come as I witness the unfolding of their lives into this world are indescribable.
My 3-year-old is all about the now. She’s not worried about what happened yesterday and has only a vague sense about what’s coming up tomorrow. And guess what? She’s pretty happy. I find when I take a time out from whatever I’m doing or planning or fretting about and get down on the floor with her to build a doghouse out of foam blocks, I’m happy too. Being in the moment, even briefly, is a gift.
De Facto Leadership
I’m in charge of the safety, health and general well-being of three growing people. I am the go-to guru for skinned knees, friendship advice and finger knitting support. I determine bedtimes and mealtimes. I am required to make both long term and split second decisions multiple times daily. That kind of leadership takes confidence, and motherhood’s given it to me in spades.
As a pre-kid perfectionist, I learned the hard way that there’s no such thing as mistake-free parenting. Tempers will be lost, bedtimes will be ignored; there will be cereal for dinner and Mom will forget Saturday’s soccer game. Unless you’re Mary Poppins (and she was the nanny), parenthood is all about trial and error and learning as we go.
While I’m still grateful for the big stuff—my health, the roof over my head, food on my plate—having kids has made me more deeply thankful for the mundane: when the baby’s fever breaks; when the rain finally stops so we can play outside; when the older girls work together without fighting to build a Lego Eiffel Tower; when my 3-year-old shows me the first buds on the plum tree.
Kids are funny. In the car the other day, the little one was whining about being hungry. “Sorry, kiddo,” I said. “I don’t have any snacks so you’re just going to have to deal until we’re home.” That’s when my middle one said, “Yeah, mom’s not dealing with you. Been there, raised that.” There’s nothing like a good laugh to distract you from the day-to-day slog of parenthood.
Believe me, there are days when my kids make me wonder what life would be like without them. I don’t get very far with that fantasy, though, because there’s usually a kid begging me for a snack, telling me a story or flinging her arms around my neck—just because.