July 20, 2013

Raising My Son (Who is Raising Me). ~ Katharine Spano

Becoming a parent changes who you are, right?

While I was regarding a mess of my son’s toys in the living room today, I thought of how completely Luke has changed everything.

Most of the changes are relevant to the trajectory of my life: I never could have predicted two years ago that I would be sitting on the floor of my living room, being used as a jungle gym by someone with 50% of my DNA. I did anticipate spending more time outside, but not with an extra 20 pounds squirming around on my back.

And I certainly didn’t anticipate getting puked on would become part of my yoga practice, but now that’s its happened, I’m okay with it.

But as far as who I am, I don’t know how much that has changed—I think I’ve become more fiercely who I have always been.

Hear me out. (Forgive me if I start to sound a little egotistical; that’s not what I’m going for.)

Over the past two years, during my pregnancy and the first year of my son’s life, I read a lot of parenting books, because I had no idea what I was I doing. When the authors of these manuals discuss the stress parents of fussy, colicky babies feel, they always offer reassurance along the following lines: you might not have the baby you want, but you have the baby you need. The difficult baby is a wise baby: he will help you grow as a person/learn to appreciate the little things/teach you some mystical message about the meaning of life.

I didn’t have a lot of designs on the baby I wanted, so I’m not too disappointed. I was more concerned with having a baby who didn’t want me.

I was worried I would have a baby who I couldn’t soothe or comfort, or who would provide me with a million and one opportunities daily for utter failure: a baby for whom I just wasn’t good enough. But Luke…he is so, so relaxed and forgiving. Most parents think their child is pretty wonderful, and I am no exception, holding Luke in high regard even in midst of a (sometimes mutual) breakdown.

My son is independent, and curious, smart and determined. He is so confident and comfortable in being a wonderful, happy little baby that he doesn’t give me a chance to feel like the miserable fuck-up I’ve always known I am.

So maybe I’m not that miserable fuck-up? Is that my lesson?

For years, I worked between 60 and 80 hours every week, not because I had to, but because I couldn’t discern between indolence and shiftlessness. After 10 or so years in the customer service sector, a field which I grew to hate, I was unable to find any meaning in my life outside of whatever big  box store I spent so much time in. I was fractured, used up, unmoored; without the energy to resist it, that hunch that I was no good grew into a belief, so I hated myself, too.

Then I found out I was pregnant (surprise!). An uncomfortable period of growth began, both in the physical body and the spiritual, and I found myself with a serious, twenty-four-hour-a-day, seven-month long case of morning sickness that made working impossible.

After walking out of an interview (in which I was the person doing the interviewing) to puke in a back alley, I left my job.

I haven’t returned to ‘work’ since.

Two years ago, I couldn’t have predicted that I’d be a stay-at-home-mom, spending my days as a jungle gym and actually feeling good about it, or that I would look forward to laying on the couch for hours, completely still, observing my son asleep on my chest.

Before Luke was born, I never understood the word “precious.” I thought it was trite and cutesy; that the concept, even, was pretty weak.

Why cherish this day when tomorrow would be exactly the same?

But time, now, is precious in a way those hours of overtime and jockeying for a promotion never could be. I can’t ever get these moments back: my son trying to nurse from my chin, or the hiccups in my belly, or picking Luke up out of the bassinet to lay him down in bed and falling asleep finally, still annoyed, because he kept putting his hands on my boobs.

Some of these things are inconvenient, but they’re absolutely symbolic of this part of my son’s life, as well as mine. I would be so, so misguided to let myself get caught up in the trifling indignation that sometimes still bubbles to the surface.

This reactive attitude is a relic from years spent on a sales floor when I anchored my identity to the way the customers treated me, either self-righteously negating everyone else’s worth, or completely discounting my own.

Now, I know I can always be put upon but I can’t always be my son’s pillow.

I’m sure there are things I could be doing better (like right now, I could stop my son from putting his toothbrush in the toilet) and I’m not going to take responsibility for how absolutely great my son is.  But he is the baby I’ve needed to teach me that I don’t have to be always be caught up: in working, planning, judging, in a constant circle of self-flagellation.

It’s okay to just be present and it’s okay to just be happy.


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Ed: Bryonie Wise

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