KNOWLEDGE is POWER / REAL NEWS is KEY
New York: Sunday, July 14, 2024
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The author, pregnant with her eldest child.

Travel & Lifestyle: I Swore I’d Never Be The Mother Who Complained About Parenthood. Then I Had Children.

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It’s 6 p.m., the beginning of the dinner-bath-bedtime gauntlet for most parents. I’m upstairs in bed with a novel. This is unprecedented.

Since becoming a mother six years ago (and again four years ago) (and again two years ago), I, like so many parents before me, have spent each early evening breastfeeding and/or cutting food into tiny pieces and/or sopping up water spills while reminding someone they liked salmon last week. But tonight my husband is handling feeding time, and I’m lying back like Cleopatra popping grapes.

What I’m actually popping are giant white pills called SUTAB, in preparation for a colonoscopy in the morning. One tablet every two minutes for half an hour, followed by two jugs of water over the subsequent two hours: a grand total of 150 minutes just hanging out in a room by myself. That these pills are designed to bring on rivers of overnight diarrhea matters to me very little.

I’m in bed! Alone! Reading! I’m content to the point of giddiness, and I remain so for the next 24 hours — through the night in the bathroom (during which I watched Netflix – nothing animated!), and through the exam itself. I slept two hours in the surgery center, then three hours once I got home. Anesthesia: highly recommended.

I woke up around 5 p.m. rested to an almost otherworldly degree, practically skipping downstairs to hug my family and help with the nighttime routine, as one does after an invasive gastrointestinal procedure. It was the most rejuvenating experience I’d had in years.

I have, of course, gotten a lot of mileage out of this story. I told it to a group of moms at a birthday party, and we really got into it.

“Now I want a colonoscopy!”

“Have you heard the one about how a mom’s only break is the time between closing the kid’s car door and opening the driver’s side?”

“I once left the kids downstairs and snuck up to the bathroom, so relieved to be alone … until I was washing my hands and saw in the mirror I’d been wearing the baby the whole time.”

That last one was me again, and the laughs felt good. Until I realized: In the course of one conversation, I’d just told two stories about escaping my kids.

Is this how I feel about parenting? About my children? About my life?

It’s just the kind of talk that made me cringe or roll my eyes or cry during the two years in between losing a baby at six months pregnant and welcoming our first child. Kids were all my husband Marc and I wanted, and it felt like everyone else had them. And worse, like they were kind of put out about it.

I’d hear things like, “Sleep while you can” or “Enjoy your freedom,” and I’d wonder: Didn’t you sign up for this? Aren’t you supposed to be enjoying your kids?

The author, pregnant with her eldest child.

Photo Courtesy Of Risa Polansky Shiman

During that dark period, we attended a wedding at which a woman toting an infant (in a tiny tuxedo!) asked if we planned to have children. When we said yes, she said it would be the best decision we’d ever make, that we’d never be happier, that it would be fun.

Marc and I couldn’t get over her earnest gratitude and positivity. “No one says stuff like that!” we marveled, and I vowed if I were lucky enough to finally become a parent, I would.

And I do. All the time. To my husband, to my parents, to God, to people who want children and to the strangers at the grocery store who invariably tell me it looks like I have my hands full.

“Yep,” I say. “It’s the best!” Most of the time, I even mean it.

Stick me with a group of other parents at a small child’s birthday party, though, and it’s like I took a SUTAB for verbal diarrhea – out comes the colonoscopy story.

That day, feeling ungrateful and embarrassed and as if I’d inaccurately represented my sentiments about my family, I blurted the customary, “But of course I also love being with my kids!”

To which another mom responded, easy-breezy, as if it were obvious: “Both things can be true.”

Relief flooded my system like a dinnertime water spill. Because both things are true. Before I had kids, when I was unsure whether I could have kids, I didn’t understand how parents could openly kvetch about them. But I also didn’t understand the degree to which parenting can be hard work, logistically and physically and emotionally.

I didn’t understand how it can be all-consuming, sometimes to the point of leaving ourselves behind, only to reencounter that girl who used to read for pleasure the night before an intrusive intestinal exam.

I didn’t realize the wry, self-deprecating parenting rhetoric of social media and playground benches that struck a nerve when we were trying to have a baby can be a point of connection for those who do have kids. Telling these anecdotes, with a laugh and a sigh and a tongue in cheek, is a way for parents to commiserate, to bond, to find humor in this 24-hour-a-day job that changes and dominates life. There’s truth and value in it, and it’s fun.

“Before I had kids, when I was unsure whether I could have kids, I didn’t understand how parents could openly kvetch about them.”

I still wistfully reference a comedy show I saw years ago in which two moms performed an original song called “Hotel Room By Myself.” It was hilarious and relatable and remains aspirational to this day.

I just don’t want to get too caught up in this way of joking and talking and thinking, don’t want it to become my default, don’t want to lose sight of that upbeat, positive mom with the baby in the formalwear. Before I aspired to check into a hotel by myself, I aspired to be her, excited about and grateful for the privilege of parenting.

And it is a privilege. A privilege and a joy and a miracle. And overwhelming and exhausting and tough.

It’s true the colonoscopy was basically a spa day for me, true I was happy not to be facilitating dinner that night. It’s also true I love being with my kids, even and sometimes especially during the evening routine.

We go around the table and each say the best part of our day, and it’s generally uplifting and adorable and about any sugar the kids may have consumed. But my 4-year-old tends to name two things, so in addition to “the best part of my day was eating cake at Jonah’s party,” he also always says, “right now, being with my whole family.” (And then my heart explodes.)

It’s true I’m super sick of thrice-daily readings of “Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site” (or, as the 2-year-old calls it, “Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Vehicles, Goodnight,” because the actual title isn’t long enough). But it’s also true I kvell every time he holds his little finger up to his little mouth and says “Shhh, goodnight,” true I revel in sniffing his head and kissing his curls while he’s distracted by the “bulldozozer.”

It’s true it was inconvenient and disgusting when one day, immediately after blowdrying my hair, my son vomited directly into it. But it’s also true I feel seen when other parents react with knowing horror and amusement when I tell that story.

Being with my kids is my deepest joy. And sometimes they throw up in my hair. We are allowed to laugh about and lament the latter. Sometimes using the bathroom alone (sleeping baby notwithstanding) will be the best part of the day. But sometimes it’ll be when you overhear one son tell the other, “You’re my best friend.” Or having a Reading Club with your daughter, side by side in her bed after the little ones are asleep.

As a parent, there can be a lot of best parts and a lot of worst parts. They can happen one after the other after the other, even somehow simultaneously. (I can’t explain the mechanics ― I’m not a physicist.)

The author after the birth of her second child.
The author after the birth of her second child.

Photo Courtesy Of Risa Polansky Shiman

Last summer, the five of us were flying home to Florida after visiting my sister’s family in Chicago. We made it to the runway… and then sat there for four hours. With three kids under the age of 6. Due to weather, the route we eventually (finally!) took was 45 minutes longer than planned, bringing our time on board to a cumulative seven and a half hours.

But was it that bad? I mean, yes.

I chased a 2-year-old up and down the aisle 87 times. He fell asleep for exactly five minutes, woke up screaming, and only calmed down when I started playing the “Daniel Tiger” theme on repeat. We ate metric tons of junk food. The kids watched more TV than they do in a week. We got home after midnight.

But also. No one fully melted down (not even me!). I saw takeoff through the kids’ eyes as they exclaimed about the size of the cars below and shrieked every time they saw a tiny baseball field or pool. We coasted above a field of fluffy cumulus clouds, and my daughter said that’s what her dreams look like. There was a moment when, in the row in front of me, Marc and the kids pretended they were on a roller coaster, throwing up their arms and woo-ing and laughing. I sat and watched, in awe they get to be mine.

View from the airplane window, 2022. "That's what my dreams look like," said Sam, age 6.
View from the airplane window, 2022. “That’s what my dreams look like,” said Sam, age 6.

Photo Courtesy Of Risa Polansky Shiman

I was tired. Hungry. Stressed. Tortured by each hour of lost sleep for each child. I had a cup of ice water dumped in my lap that seemed never to dry. But I was also, somehow, content. Proud of all of us for holding it together, thankful to have flexible, resilient, fun-loving kids.

So, how to tell the story? (I will definitely be telling the story.) Nightmare? Triumph?

Do you have a compelling personal story you’d like to see published on HuffPost? Find out what we’re looking for here and send us a pitch at [email protected].



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