Finding joy AND fun as a parent.

We used to go out every night, get drunk and high, fuck strangers in strange places, and meet up for breakfast or brunch after taking our respective walks of shame. Now we talk on Skype every chance that we get:  she, with her eyelids droopy from staying up late, grading English 1 and English 2 papers; and me, seemingly always energetic, even after the grind of school/family/work/dream-job-chasing.

“Holy fuck,” she always says. “Your life is so different now.”

“Yup,” I say, as a grin spreads smugly from ear to ear.

She sees the look on my face, the one that’s a step away from being condescending and holier-than-thou, and she pouts before laughing. “Fuck you and your perfect life!” she bellows before exploding into a tumult of contagious merriment.

I find freedom in her howls of joy and allow myself to feel whatever is in me to feel, and at this moment it’s a split-second of self-righteousness. I feel like I’ve won the greatest prize ever, like no one has ever reached the kind of perfection that I’ve achieved, like I have all the answers. Like I’m God. It’s taken me almost a year to reclaim this feeling, and just as quickly as it appears, it’s gone. I feel the change and am grateful. Luckily, in that same year, I also learned to be gracious; to let the feeling recess into the last fat folds of my ego and dispense into a calm pool of confidence.

She watches the changes take place: The overwhelming surge of bravado, the back-straightening confidence, and the tranquility of inner peace. “Good,” she says as she earnestly  nods her head. “You deserve every bit of this.”

*****

There’s an eye-opening and controversial article making the rounds in social media, and when I read it last night, a zillion ideas for blog posts came to mind. Because, yes, I totally understand the feelings brought up by the writer. The thing is, I can’t really relate to them.

The title says it all, All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting. I highly recommend reading it if you haven’t done so already. If you’re a parent, you’ll most likely find yourself nodding your head in agreement; if you’re not a parent, you’ll most likely learn something that will help you relate to your friends who are parents.

Reading this article reminded me of chemistry class: the comparison of known values to unknown values often shed light on subjects I’d previously considered myself an expert. I’d feel my base of knowledge expanding, expounding, becoming more brilliant and yet, somehow, also sinking back into itself as the thing that I’d always known.

To be clear: I loved the writing of the article, but I didn’t find the subject at all groundbreaking. The studies, though important, simply corroborate what I’ve always known to be true, and are therefore far from shocking. Of course most people are let down by parenting. Most people have no idea what parenting is like until they’re a parent.

*****

Riley turns 1 year old in less than a month, and though I won’t say that this leg of the parenting journey has been easy, I have to admit, it hasn’t been as hard as I was expecting it to be. Everything from the actual labor and delivery; to the decisions of not circumcising Riley and of anointing him in a spiritual/non denominational ceremony as well as a Catholic one; to the processes of finding childcare and making baby food from scratch; to being able to provide everything I want to provide have been a walk in the park. Riley’s an easy baby to take care of: he hardly ever gets sick, he has a loving and good-humored disposition, and he’s been ahead of the curve, developmentally, pretty much since the day he was born. Maybe my case isn’t the norm, or maybe the first year is really the easiest, or maybe my approach to parenting is somehow different from that of most other parents. All I know is, I’m always finding joy and fun in every sphere of my life – including parenting.

*****

How can this possibly be the case? For one thing, though I always miss my son, I don’t ever feel like I’m missing out on anything concerning him. I take active participation in everything about his life, and I don’t get all up in arms about the small stuff. To me, what matters is that he’s happy and healthy, and that I’m providing the best life possible for him.

Obviously, best is a subjective term, and though I can’t tell you directly what my idea of the best parenting style consists of, I can tell you what it doesn’t consist of: doubting my instincts and my self, hovering, over-planning, lack of common sense, and lack of hard work. I find that a pragmatic and knowledgeable approach makes life a hell of a lot easier. For example, I’m a nursing student, and as such I know more about diseases that I’d care to know. So I take every single precaution necessary to keep Riley safe and healthy, and after I’m satisfied that I’ve done everything I can possibly do, I relax. Because, sure, inevitably shit will hit the fan. But preparation doesn’t mean worrying – and it sure as hell doesn’t do anyone any good.

Another thing the article talks about are strains in a couple’s relationship, and how couples with kids inevitably have more stress than their childless counterparts. Again: Duh! Take two people and give them a big project – say, raising a child – and it’s inevitable that the stress pile gets bigger, if only because um, did you not read the part about having a big project? Likewise, take two classmates who are having a blast while their teacher is away, then pair them up and assign them a term project, and I guarantee you that their levels of stress will also increase. Why? Because no matter how compatible their views, the very fact that there is a new task raises points that have never before been posed, and simply having those questions is stressful, let alone having to cooperate and act on them.

It’s the cooperation and acting part, though, that I think Rob and I have got licked. The great thing about Rob is that he comes in two settings, Completely Involved and Leaves It All Up To Me. For the most part, he’s the former, but for things like Riley’s baptism and lack of circumcision, aka Things of Great Importance to Me That He Can Go Either Way On? It’s the latter. And this system makes it a hell of a lot easier to cooperate and act.

Of course, it also helps that I’m feeling nurtured – not only by Rob and my parents and brother, but also by my friends and extended family and even the students and faculty at my school. They are sources of great strength, love, faith, creativity, hope, understanding and solace. They are accepting of who I am, and give me many homes at which to lay down my problems. They make it possible for me to give my all as a mom and a partner, and as a friend and a sister and a daughter, et al. I get so much in return, and I haven’t had to give up anything that I wasn’t willing to part with.

*****

Becoming a mom has been the single most life-altering act I’ve experienced, and yet for all the change and turbulence it’s caused, fundamentally, things are still the same. I still love to work and party harder than anyone else. I always find time and energy for my priorities. And I have a million things coming at me from all angles, some of which are issues I’d never even thought of. Maybe the contours of my life have changed a bit, but the process? The giving of my all? The knowing full well that it might all be for nothing, and that that’s okay? That’s the same.

Hello. My name is Maria and I am a parent who loves parenting.

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