January 13, 2016
When my son, Ethan, was three, I was still an undergrad commuting to university during the week for classes and working weekends at a local grocery store to pay for gas/books/daycare/lifeblood. Let’s just say that “stressed” was my motto. At the time, Ethan was in the throes of potty training, which was something akin to Dante’s first several rings of Hell. Successful pooping was tantamount to, I kid you not, a significant lottery win.
So, one day in a particular state of utter despair and frustration, Ethan had somehow managed to get poop EVERYWHERE. This is no embellishment: I mean, I went in the bathroom and had no idea what to do; it was just poop…. poop on all the things. Mostly on him.
What did I do?, you might ask.
I lost my mind. I lost my damn mind. I told a then three-year-old child that he needed to clean himself up; if he got poop everywhere, he could sure as heck clean it up. (Rational, I was not; crazed, I was yes.)
All I’m going to say is: Yes, I did end up cleaning this up—the poop, the child, and myself. Yes, Ethan did end up with pink eye. Yes, I also contracted pink eye. Yes, I do still remember how awful this event was because the inconvenience and actual pain of that pink eye was long lasting and shame ridden.
Fast forward 6 years: I take that same child to the University of Iowa hospitals to figure out why he still has issues with going to the bathroom. Turns out, he’s likely had issues his whole life with his colon; it’s hereditary but on his father’s side, so I had no idea. Turns out, poop issues aren’t something with which most men come forward. Turns out, this poor once-three-year-old couldn’t truly help that he’d gotten poop everywhere. Turns out, I could have kept both of us from getting pink eye and shaming ourselves; I could have kept both of us from yelling, getting angry, and getting poop where it didn’t belong, namely in our eyeballs.
(I’ve also made my son get out of the car and walk a block when he gets so angry and/or I get so angry that we cannot stay in the same car together. Usually this is preceded by me saying the cuss words that “I’ll never say to my child.” Yes, the F word has been dropped.)
My point is: We’re all barely making it. We’re all weak at some point and we do things that make ourselves feel inferior as guiding lights in our children’s lives. We also can’t know what we don’t know, and this is a learn-as-you-go job. But we need to remember that we’re all in this together, and literally no one knows what they’re doing–not really.
Co-parents amaze me, especially two committed and loving parents who are married. I have no idea how two young, awesome people get married, decide to have children and then raise them (which, evidently, is something us humans have been doing for quite some time—shocker). I am being totally serious though—I have no idea how they do what they do. So much of my parenting has been a matter of survival; it wasn’t planned, so a lot of it is and has been absolute, desperate survival. Ethan and I are each other’s world because we’ve had to be. There are others within our sphere, yes, but we are two halves.
Those who are married and “in it together” have an amazing opportunity to share their desperate sufferings with their other halves, their best friend and spouse. I hope, too, that they struggle so hard together that in the years to come they split their sides from laughing at what was once thought of as “the end of their parenting worlds.” I hope they remember the hard times, laugh, and smile a bit bigger before downing that glass of wine.
Because the awful reality is that we don’t get time with our children back. We don’t get to suffer—or sing—for very long, which is simultaneously bleak and beautiful. I might mess up and continue to mess up as I bumble along, but I know that I’m here. I’m in it. I’m fully present for all the glorious and God-awful moments. It’s mine, it’s dirty, and it’s oh, so real.
So here’s to the times that I’m not a perfect parent–when we are not perfect parents. To the times we make peanut butter on bread and canned veggie dinners. To the times when we let our girls take a bath and sit and peruse social media at the same time. For taking the kids to the park on a sunny day, letting them play, and then doing our own thing (writing, reading, what have you), while they learn to be themselves or just simply be. Here’s to acknowledging others’ Facebook lives as “good for them” but “not for us.” Here’s to not having the kids for the night and drinking a little too much and maybe, just maybe, dancing on a chair to the absolute worst rap song centered on female objectification (perhaps ever).
Here’s to all you, mamas and daddies, because you’re all doin’ just fine.