When I feel myself getting too caught up in the minutiae of parenthood, I harken back to the words I have often repeated to Z: Promise you’ll tell me if I stop being me and get too caught up in the parenting thing. I don’t know if those words are foolish or genius.
When I was pregnant with Connor I was petrified of losing the tenuous identity that I had worked so hard and long to cultivate. I was also terrified that something as seemingly soul-sucking as parenting – something I deliberately and willingly walked into the mouth of – would chew me up and spit me out, leaving a weakened, schmurp-covered, unbathed wreck on the other side. And there have been and are and will be times that I get so suffocated by kid routines and toddler diets that when I come out gasping for air it sounds like I’m arguing with Z about (insert topic here). In those moments I am an overworked parenting robot – the data keeps piling up on me and I just can’t process it all so I react automatically and thoughtlessly, spitting out a register tape of responses or performing a similar list of tasks because I don’t have the time or energy to think any of it through. This always leads to overheating, though, and in general is not the way I’d prefer to function.
It’s that exact this type of scenario that I was afraid would strip me of my individuality. Parenthood is a collection of familiar stories that are met with knowing head nods and “you just wait” admonitions and I imagined myself becoming part of a nameless collective of sleep-deprived zombies who would not be caught dead without at least two packets of fruit snacks in their pockets/purse/car/tucked into the cup of their bra upon penalty of death. And this seemed like a bad thing.
The thing is, aren’t we all trying to live a meaningful life? The way we make our journeys unique is to find that meaning in our own way. And for me, that meaning can be found by connecting with and helping others. Many times my gestures are small, but I’m working up to something big all the time, just as we all are. That next big thing could be your child’s next birthday party, looking for a better job, trying to eat more vegetables, changing careers, or gearing up to clean out the inside of a neglected car. With a mystery smell that refuses to be found. That’s been there for over a month. Not that know anything about that first hand…Parenthood at its finest is exactly that; it allows us to find others who understand the struggle while appreciating their personal approach to it. It is also a constant gearing up for the next big thing, which can be both exciting and dreadful. As parents we are tasked with caring for each other by forming deep connections with a tiny being. I can’t imagine a greater source of meaning for myself, and to think it was given to me (luckily) so easily and without years of schooling or work seniority.
Parenting has christened me into the church of early morning trucks in the face and the sweetest little voices to run through the house. That isn’t such a bad group to join. And its not a personality-less cult. If anything, I find I have become a stronger, occasionally more patient, more creative individual with a striking fashion sense (snot-smeared jeans with a yogurt-coated sweater, anyone?). So I will allow myself to get caught up in this parenting thing and grow in more ways than I could have imagined and I’ll try to do it while maintaining my mature sense of self. And I’ll still rely on Z to call me out when necessary.
P.S. This isn’t to say that people without kids can’t don’t mature and grow and become equally as awesome as those with children. I’m just not one of those people anymore so I can’t speak to how their lives further develop. I love you all, though!