I won’t lie…I miss him almost every day. He was a man I just couldn’t solve, a man women love to love, a man men want to be and women want to be with. He was a man easy to make excuses for, knowing where he came from and how he got to where he is. He was both haunted and haunting; a progressive, yet a man firmly rooted in his time. And his genius was unparalleled, responsible for some of the most lasting ideas of a generation, including the “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” tagline and ad that everyone over a certain age knows and can sing. I still miss Don Draper, and Mad Men, all the time, as well as Stan’s mutinous beard and that lovable, deplorable, drunken, womanizing rascal Roger Sterling (who, incidentally, was Mike’s man crush). But what those mad ad men never came up with was the defining slogan for parenting, not that there’s any money for ads or actual ads in the realm of parenthood.
While I’m no genius, tonight I came up with the definitive slogan for parenting, with a wink and a nod to the Peace Corps (though not much about parenting can be said to be peaceful). As I was cleaning up dinner tonight, I said something innocuous to Grace and she immediately came back with a mocking noise much like Charlie Brown’s teacher, that made me want to throw in my apron and, Dolly-Parton-style, say, “Take this job and shove it!” And that’s when it hit me…the slogan for parenting, in all it’s painful, truthful glory, should be: Parenting - the most thankless job you’ll ever love.
Parenting is not glamorous. I spent years walking around with spit up on my shoulder and down my back, sometimes known and sometimes unknown. I carry around a full set of clothes in a backpack in the van - for all of us, including adults - for when someone (anyone) is unintentionally covered in a random bodily fluid. I didn’t wear earrings or necklaces for the better part of a decade, for fear of having my earrings ripped out of my lobes (which, a former neighbor who grew up in LA and was a part of the Crips in her teenage years, can attest hurts like a *mother*) or being choked.
Parenting is not a “career” to have if you’re interested in immediate satisfaction. The project assignment lasts the rest of your life, with intensive management for two solid decades, and there’s no way to tell if you’re doing a good job for about the first 20 years. Every now and then, I’ll think things are going okay, but then I realize I won’t really know how things are going until the kids are adults. If they turn out to be serial killers, I’ll know I failed. And the real judgement will come only when I can come up with some kind of ratio to determine amount they spend on therapy, versus total amount of earned income. Only then will it be possible to know if I did an okay job. When they’re functioning adults, capable of standing on their own two feet and giving and accepting love (assuming this actually happens), I’ll know. But that’s a helluva lot of years away. In the intervening decades, parents just toil and plug away, day after thankless day, with no real clue how the projects they’re managing are progressing, and hoping they succeed. What kind of system is this, anyway? There is NO real world situation that mimics this whole parenting business.
In the realm of compensation and appreciation, to quote another deeply flawed, deeply missed friend, Tony Soprano, fuhgeddaboutit. If there was a parenting HR department, parents would be resigning in droves. The complaint department would be flooded with egregious reports of overtime, unreasonable demands, unrealistic expectations, expense reports that would make CEOs blush, horrific working conditions…the list goes on and on. The whole enterprise would be shut down, the system would collapse, and parenting as we know it would be over. Capital O, capital V, capital E, capital R. As in, the end of civilization. Done. Finito. That’s all she wrote, folks.
Yet people keep reproducing. I think it’s because all of those non-parents just DON’T know, through no fault of their own. And then there are the people with a million kids, like me, who figure it out so late. I just didn’t know, because I had them all so close together. It’s all fun and games until, one day, someone is making Charlie-Brown’s-teacher noises at you, and another one is challenging you with the exact same levels of stubbornness that you have (egads!), and another one is designing a rocket car out of a tissue box and a helmet out of a Dixie cup to take their duck to the moon, and another one is shattering your wine glass and staining the carpet, when you are forced to say, “Hold the phone! What the heck is going on?!?! How did I get here? Where’s the HR department?!"