Friday, July 9, 2010

What It's Like

When my daughter was a toddler, my friend Dean asked me what it's like being a mother. I tried to think about how to describe it to him, a thirty five year old perennial bachelor, in terms that he could understand. I asked him if he had ever gotten stuck taking care of a friend at college who was really, really drunk and maybe tripping on acid, too. "That's what it's like," I said. At a social event, you turn your back for what seems like a moment and when you turn back around, your child is completely naked spreading yogurt dip on her private parts. And then eating it. At the park, where you turn away for just a second, one single second, you turn back around to find her chewing on a cigarette butt. And you spend a lot of time trying to reason with someone who is resisting you, uncoordinated, stumbling around. You talk in a loud voice, as if the problem is that they just can't hear you, saying things like, "I KNOW YOU DON'T LIKE THE CAR SEAT, BUT YOU HAVE TO GET IN THE CAR SEAT. IT'S THE LAW. I WILL GET YOU OUT OF THE CAR SEAT WHEN WE GET HOME. JUST LIKE WE ALWAYS DO. OKAY? I'M SORRY, I'M FORCING YOU INTO THE CAR SEAT NOW. IT'S OKAY." They are constantly falling down, hitting their heads, sobbing, getting back up again, falling down, hitting their heads, and... sobbing.

But just like your wasted college friend, they have these sublime moments of seemingly divine comprehension and connection. Waving their hand around in a sunny spot on the floor and laughing. Chasing pigeons as if they know what to do if they actually catch one. Rolling around in the grass with no thought, only the sheer joy of sensation. They will suddenly, when you don't expect it, give you a big hug, look you straight in the eye, and tell you they love you, so open hearted that your heart can only open in response. They are immersed in the moment in a way that's not possible if you're not drunk, enlightened, or under the age of five. And as nice as all that is, you still can't wait until they pass out for the evening so you can have a little time to yourself before you pass out, only to wake up and do it all over again the next day.

When your friend finally crashed, you may have taken a few photos to post online, or share with friends in some other format. The same is true when you have little children, only more so. My husband and I could not wait until our daughter was asleep--we were so exhausted--and then we would spend those few hours of potential "down" time looking at pictures of her on the computer. Unless your college friend was really hot, the comparison likely ends here. But up to this point, seriously, it's the same basic deal, only much more extreme. Your patience must extend considerably beyond a six hour odyssey holding the hand of someone who overdid it at a frat party. This is why nature makes little children so incredibly beautiful that it just doesn't feel right to abandon them.