What Parenting Means

In the United States, the end of May generally ushers in a time of unparalleled togetherness. Whether we like it or not, graduations, national holidays, and warm weather lead to parties and backyard barbecues, thus combining to draw back together the fractured circles of family and friends into something nearly resembling community. This past weekend alone took me to six social functions excluding church, and at many of these I clinked plastic cups with the same basic sets of relatives and friends. 

At one such event, I found myself in a backyard at dusk, having stepped outside to avoid the loud chatter and stifling air. This didn't exactly work out as planned, because out back, I found my older brother standing watch over his impressive brood of five children, along with all the cousins, a smattering of grubby-footed neighborhood children, several dogs, and a kitten. Tag, hide-and-go-seek, gymnastics, and jiu jitsu took place simultaneously amidst raucous shouts and barking dogs. Off to the far end of the yard, two of my nieces happily smeared themselves with fistfuls of dirt. Oblivious to most of these antics, my brother calmly fielded calls on his cell phone and chatted with other adults, seemingly ready to ignore all signs of juvenile distress except blood.

Then friends from church showed up with even more small children, and the backyard ranks swelled to start-your-own-child-army proportions. Sound levels rose exponentially. I sipped my drink and waited for signs that the neighbors had called in the National Guard.

Sitting on a patio chair with my cane propped up against one leg, attempting to hear over the din, I looked up at a friend of mine as we chatted. Out of nowhere, her nine-year-old twins caromed around a corner slapped their hands forcefully against her rear end, palms out flat. “I’m first!” one crowed, while the other hotly contested this claim.

Meanwhile, my friend never batted an eye, acting as if being double-hand slapped in the hindquarters hadn’t even happened.

This must be what having children means, I mused. 

Do I mean to say that becoming a parent means losing all feeling to your lower extremities? Not precisely. But I do mean that having children means living out a very different reality from the rest of us.

What Parenting Means:

1. That you become desensitized. Getting double-hand slapped on the rump, being vomited on, allowing toddlers to chew on your shoulder, having your earrings and locks of your hair yanked out of your head by  merciless little fists—parents tend to handle such shenanigans with grace and aplomb.  Unlike me. Because I am not a parent, I have not reached the levels of desensitization required to change a Nuclear Waste Diaper without first donning a hazmat suit. Neither have I reached the level of diffidence required to handle having facial features nearly ripped off by those tiny little baby fingernails without emitting silent sonic screams. I'm just not ready for it.

2. That you must train your eyes to be bigger than your plate. Parents, you understand that everything on your plate is fair game for your children. It is expected of you to offer several bites up in sacrifice to their curiosity; therefore, you must train yourself to go against everything your mother always told you and adjust your serving sizes accordingly. Based on impartial observation, I would recommend increasing your serving size by 5% per child in your care, meaning that if you have four children, you must of necessity take a piece of cake 20% larger than expected. This ensures both that you will have sufficient bites for each of your baby birds and that you will still enough to satisfy your own sweet tooth. You’re welcome.

3. That you will never be alone—ever. Sleeping, showering, making phone calls, using the toilet—these times you once held sacred are sacrosanct no longer. Once children arrive, these once-solitary moments become stressful, quasi-public events fraught with indistinct questions yelled through bathroom doors and worrisome, muffled screams and crashing thuds wafting down hallways and through walls, distracting you from the business at hand.

Such is life, right?

Well, such is life with children. At least, that’s how it appears to an outsider like me.

Then again, perhaps this recounting of what parenting means is incomplete. Because although children may desensitize you, eat all of your food, and suck all of the privacy out of your life, their presence also seems to weave great joy, blessing, and personal growth to the textures of your lives, adding a richness not obtained any other way. 

For that richness, the childless among us tend to envy you.

Until we remind ourselves that we can use the restroom uninterrupted.  

Then we’re okay with it.


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