Parenthood: One second, you want to run away from it all; the next, you want to squeeze your kids so damn tight and never let them go. I call it the Great Paradox of Parenthood.
At all times, I have two running lists going in my head. One is made up of the things about parenthood that I’m wishing away, and the other is a mush-gushy sentimental one about how fleeting it all is, and how desperately I am trying to hold onto my kids’ childhoods.
The first list goes like this:
1. I Can’t Wait to Sleep Again
I mean, really sleep. I want to stretch my body out in bed, and sleep for eight hours without some little person’s elbow in my belly or someone crying out for another cup of water just as I’ve drifted off. Sleep is more delicious than chocolate, ice cream, coffee or cheese fries, and that’s saying a lot.
2. I Want to Work More
Before kids, I was a successful writer. I still write and get my work out there, but there are so many projects I would like to take on, so much big and important work that’s impossible to squeeze into the tiny window of nap time and Paw Patrol episodes.
3. I Want to Go Places Without Whiny Kids
I want to open the door to my car, sit down, turn on the ignition, and drive somewhere—anywhere. No more hunching over trying to a get a squirming toddler buckled in. No more “are we there yet?” I just want to go, do whatever it is I need to do, get back in the car, and arrive home. Fucking amazing.
4. I Want to Eat a Meal in Peace
I want to eat without refilling my children’s water cups every five minutes. I don’t want to hear about that little black speck on the broccoli or the pasta that isn’t warm enough (after it was “burning hot” less than a minute ago). I want to eat a meal I’ve cooked, sit down while it’s hot, and enjoy every last bite.
5. I Want Kids Who Can Clean Up Their Own Messes
Or at least kids who don’t make quite so many! I’m tired of changing diapers, cleaning pee off the bathroom floor, putting dirty socks in the hamper 75 million times a day, and cleaning up endless crumbs off the floor.
But now that I’ve aired my dirty laundry (literally), I need to share with you the other list. It’s filled with moments that break my heart in two and make me want to freeze my children in time and never let them grow up.
1. Those Nights When I Walk Into My Kids’ Rooms and Watch Them Sleep
I stand over them watching their little chests rise and fall. They look exactly like they did as babies, but beneath the blankets, I see their long bodies all stretched out, and I want to cry.
2. Those Afternoons When I Sort Through the Clothes My Children Have Outgrown
That little red Gap sweatshirt with holes on the elbows and sleeves, I can’t throw it out. Same goes for that froggie raincoat and that dumb (beautiful) shirt with the jumping monkey on it. And don’t even get me started on baby socks, no way.
3. When One of My Boys Comes to Tell Me He’s Had a Bad Day, or He’s Sad
His eyes fill with humungous tears, and I’m the one—the only one—who can make it better. Part of what destroys me about times like this is that I know it won’t last. I know there will be fewer and fewer times my children will come to me that vulnerable and needful. And soon, I won’t be the only one who can make it better.
4. Those Absentminded Evening Cuddles In Front of the TV
We’re are all settled down in our pj’s watching TV, the busy day slowly fading away. The big boy flops down in the crook of my arm and starts to twirl my hair. The little boy curls his whole body in my lap; his head still fits right there beneath my neck. Oh, their softness, their love—just the perfect scent of them makes me want to stop time and keep them exactly this age, in that moment, forever.
5. Any Time One of My Children Falls Asleep in My Arms
Holy wow. To feel your child slip into dreamy abandon while nestled in your arms. To get to witness that first sleep sigh, and to know that your child is there, in the safety of your arms. There’s nothing like it. It’s like getting a shot of pure happiness. As they get older, you wonder each time if it’s the last time you’ll get to experience such sweetness and connection.
Yep, parenthood is one giant, insane contradiction. How is it possible to feel such a deep need for things to get easier, a lusting for the easy, restful pre-kid days, and yet, feel the such a drive to keep your kids little for all eternity? How is possible to feel such strong feelings at once, every waking moment of your life?
I have no answers. I want it all. I want it both ways. I want things to be as simple as they were when I was a wistful 20-something who ached for kids but who had no idea how quickly they would suck the life out of me. I want that simple girl and that simple life back. And yet, I know that would mean not having the children who have brought me more happiness than I could ever imagine, who give me hope for all humanity, and make me want to make the world a better place.
So here I am, stuck in the great messy, complicated, merciless, beautiful life of parenthood—doing my best, holding on to my kids, letting them go, and trying to be remember that there is no way to have it all, at once, ever. And maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be, and all I can do is accept it, be honest with myself, and make the most of this precious life I’ve been given.