Clearly, I am doing something wrong. I mean, with this whole parenting thing. I think that I am having more trouble with all of it than everyone else or, at the very least, that everyone else is much better at hiding their exasperations. My standard greeting lately has morphed from “Hello!” to the ominous, “I’m not gonna make it,” coupled with sad, puppy-dog eyes. People who know me think I am being humorous, but I keep telling people that what appears to them to be humor is genuinely a cry for help. Now, at least, I will have it in writing that I have been a woman crying out for help for nearly a decade now and that no one took me seriously. My despair, however, has yielded one major positive: I have a title for my autobiography. A couple weeks ago, in a fit of frustration, I shouted to no one in particular, “Welcome to Crazy Town!!! Population: me!” Now that’s a title that’s going to move some copies!
Now that we are already in the second week of summer “vacation,” my peanut butter intake has skyrocketed. For lunch, I just used a knife and went directly from one jar to the other, delivering, alternately, peanut butter and raspberry jam, straight to my mouth. This is obviously problematic for two reasons: it’s bathing suit season, AGAIN (expletive, expletive, expletive), and Mike has serious issues with jam ending up in the peanut butter jar. I tell him that there’s no time for a second knife when I am on the verge of a meltdown, but I don’t think he believes me. This parenting is seriously stressful business and, sometimes, only excess peanut butter and jelly, sharing one knife, can take the edge off.
I frequently read studies about people in various professions who are most likely to suffer from PTSD. They are generally fairly obvious professions: soldiers, police, corrections officers, doctors, nurses, etc. I often wonder why no one is looking at parents. Parents of multiple kids, parents with a spouse in the military, parents of special needs kids, parents of potty-trainers, parents of teenagers…I have an unproven theory that no one is in worse shape than parents and that scientists are too afraid to publish this truth. Our population depends on people continuing to have children so the unpleasant truths about parenting remain unexplored and/or hidden, depending on your preferred type of conspiracy theory.
Another group of people to blame in the big cover-up are parents. When I was pregnant with Grace, exactly ONE friend told me an unpleasant truth, which was, ultimately, wonderful, and I have hearkened back to her wisdom multiple times over the years. She told me that people talk about this connection they automatically feel when their baby is born. She said she didn’t feel it, that the bond wasn’t immediate. She also told me that there would be times when I’d want to throw my crying baby out the window in the middle of the night; and that was normal, too, AS LONG AS I didn’t ever act on it. No one ever said anything like that to me except for her. So, either everyone feels it and no one says it, or she and I are just equally horrible parents.
Don’t get me wrong…I love my kids and would (and do) do anything for them. I’d be lost without them…absolutely crazy. But the opposite is equally true, too. That I frequently feel lost with them and that I will go absolutely crazy because of them. It is difficult to have such strong, conflicting feelings. Which is just one more of the ways parenting slowly chips away at one’s mental well-being. Not only do I constantly marvel at how many children survive childhood (kids are accident-prone and full of pretty dumb ideas for a lot of years, and I am certainly NOT excluding myself from this group), I also marvel at how many parents survive parenthood. It is a complete mystery to me that more parents don’t end up institutionalized, at least short term, or have significantly lower life expectancies.
People tell you how much work parenting is, but the emotional roller coaster that accompanies it is probably something people can’t appropriately warn you about, anyways, it’s something that can only be experienced. Unless, of course, I am doing something wrong which, I often think, is a distinct possibility. My personal and parenting faults are many: I am obsessive, I am an over thinker, I’m a perfectionist with unreal expectations, I want to do well but am plagued with insecurities and doubt, I am chronically mentally exhausted and overwhelmed, I’ve lost almost all of my memory and I mourn my almost non-existent free time (as I type, my four-year-old is bellowing, “Mooooooommmmm….help me with this puzzle!” I am ignoring him). I never know if the list of things I am failing at stems from doing something right, or from doing something wrong.
Growing people is hard work…from the day the seed starts to germinate until the day the plant is mature and fully bloomed. And the years in between are filled with work, worry, work, worry and more work and worry. And I can’t help but wonder (and fear) if, when the kids are finally grown, there’s ever satisfaction and pride in the accomplishment, or if we are plagued by the question: did they turn out just fine because of us, or did they turn out just fine in spite of us?