There’s a sound that every woman past the age of 20 instantly recognizes. It’s an obnoxiously boisterous shriek that starts at a grown woman’s toes, works its way right past her ovaries, and jogs by the ole’ ticker before erupting like a volcano out of her mouth. It’s a universal celebratory cry reserved for two specific occurrences: Engagements and babies. Even if the sound doesn’t volunteer itself from our vocal chords, almost every woman knows how to fake it, instinctively.
Last week, while hammering away on my keyboard at work, I heard the call and, as we all do, went running to add my shriek to the choir. A coworker was expecting. Her first, it turns out. “Ahhhhh, bless her little heart,” I thought to myself. “Bless her naive, innocent, untainted little heart.”
People want to know what parenting is like. But they really don’t want to know what parenting is like. It’s a similar story with childbirth. “Tell me everything!” [Insert stories with words like “tear” and “blood” and “plug”] “Why did you tell me all that? Gawd!”
It’s really not that bad. You see, parenting is basically like this …
You know when you walk into your house and the odor is off? Like, you know something went awry. Something terrible transpired in the minutes or hours you were away, but the only way to pinpoint the exact scent invading your nostrils is to go on a terrifying scavenger hunt to track it down. Well, when you’re a parent, you play that game, like all the time. You leave no shirt, underchin, diaper, palm, head of hair, or ear unturned. My children, for whatever reason, typically smell like a potpourri of maple syrup, black dirt and a hint of pee. Why? I don’t know. It’s all part of the game. I find that asking the right questions is key. “Did you fall in the mud or walk through it?” “Do you have to go potty or is too late?”
OK, so also, being a parent means living in the strap of a giant slingshot. The strap, you see, is made up of threads of your child’s emotional instability. The thrill is not knowing when you’re going to get shot into the air as a result of their tantrum or general displeasure or really for no freaking reason at all. It is guaranteed that at some point in your evening you will be hurled, full-throttle, into the throws of a meltdown-fueled tail spin. You develop a scale in which you can gauge the insanity from foot stomping to full-blown breathless sobs. Anything that falls at desperate mean-spirited accusations and below, I tend to just ignore. Now, the mistake a lot of rookies make is thinking there will be some sort of lead-up to this irrational hurricane. Like you’ll see it coming and be able to distract or deter. [smh] Just buckle up and prepare for the free fall back down. (That’s when you get to hug them.)
Also, being a parent often involves conversational exchanges that remind me of the ones you have when you show up at a kegger and start chatting with someone who’s been there a while. I think I’m shaping a young mind with lines I picked up in a children’s psychology book and, you know, generally killin’ it, and they think I’m merely filling some time before we move on to what’s really important. Like how Captain Hook lost his hand.
Me: “Honey, when you say those things, it makes JoJo feel attacked. And do you think it feels good to be attacked? This world is so full of sad, mean things. Be the one in the crowd that makes people feel good and loved and heard.”
Spike: “Mama, did you know that last night I lived on the moon? In my dream. I lived on the moon and ate Cheetos.”
You also have to have very serious conversations where you focus really hard on not laughing about their problems. Painful poops come to mind.
Remember right after the Blair Witch Project came out and everyone got super jumpy and lost their shit at the slightest twig snap as soon as the sun went down? There’s a little bit of that going on with parenting, too. Things that are perfectly acceptable in the daylight make for a crowded, sweaty bed in the moonlight. My kids have had night terrors to the tune of Cookie Monster eating them, the masked man from Big Hero 6, curtains, a local (poorly produced) car commercial with a Halloween theme, Ursula and a campfire song about the Chicago Fire, just to name a few. The challenge is to maintain your cool at 2 a.m. when you’re jolted awake by a frightened face illuminated by the blue glow of your alarm clock just 2 inches away from your eyeballs. Now that’s scary, man.
Another thing is the total mass destruction of your word association game. Let me ask you something. When you hear, “Push it” in any context, how does your mind complete the sentence? “Push it real good” is the correct answer. How about, “It’s Friday”? What you’re looking for here is, “You ain’t got no job, and you ain’t got shit to do.” But when you’re a parent, the concept is the same, but the words change a bit. Now, I’m all like, “Finish each other’s” “Sandwiches, that’s what I was gonna say!” and “Here’s the mail” “It never fails, it makes me want to wag my tail, when it comes I wanna wail, mail!!” Don’t even say the three dirtiest words in the parent dictionary. You know the ones. Three words, seven letters total, rhymes with “Get it, Bro.” Don’t say them or I’ll be forced to cut you.
And being a parent means you’ll never be lonely again. Even if you want to be. You want a few minutes to reflect on the day, or a big decision, or why in the heck JoJo (not my JoJo) sent Wells home last Monday? Don’t go to the following places: The bathroom, the bathtub, the shower, your closet, your bedroom, your car in your garage, your pantry or your linen closet. They will find you there. They will find you and they will sing Lost Boys for the 500th time and you will be forced to sing along in your head because gosh dang it, it’s catchy.
I’d also liken the messy part of being a parent to cleaning up spilled raw egg (which, for the record, is how I imagine Big Bird’s snot might be). You wipe and wipe and there’s always more shit. Literally and figuratively. Since becoming a mother, I’ve had boogers, pee, poop, vomit and blood, none my own, on my hands. The weirdest part is, at some point your gag reflex becomes immune to the disgusting insanity of it all and it crosses over from, “I have shit on my finger!” to, “Can you take the baby, please? I got shit on my finger.” And then there’s all the other crap. The shoes with no match, the long-neglected components of Happy Meal treasures past, the markers with no lids, the books with torn pages, the Barbie shoes, the beads, the princess jewelry. And don’t try to contain it. I thought it would all live happily ever after in the basement. But it doesn’t. Somehow, piece by piece, all the crap migrates into your garden tub and onto kitchen counters and the floor of your car. It invades. It multiplies. It sucks.
So, what my friend here’s trying to say is love is blind … I mean, parenting is pretty much the coolest. If I’ve helped to prepare anyone in any way, then my work here is done. For more parenting gems, you can check out this and this.