I did not want to be a parent on Saturday night.
As I dropped Noah and his buddy off at the homecoming dance, all the insecurities I ever felt in high school came simmering back, like the re-heating a bad meal. Even though all seemed well with the boys, I couldn’t help but fret the potential perils that awaited them.Would they have a good time? Would they feel comfortable amidst theses throngs of teenagers who were now descending upon the entrance where a $15 ticket and negative breath-a-lyzer test was the price of admission. What if there is trouble? What if they get invited to an after party where there is drinking? What if they don’t get invited to the after party? What if they are walking along and get jumped by …..
It was there that I stopped myself and managed to cheerfully offer “goodbye, have a great time, call if you need us”, as I drove away, hating the moment for what it was: Exactly what I signed up for – unknowingly — sixteen years ago.
When pondering whether or not to have children, I took a fair amount of guidance from those parents who came before me. They shared their childbirth folklore, the challenges that come with those first three months of sleepless nights, their opinions on breastfeeding, vaccines, swaddling, and gentle warnings about everything else that happens in that first year. The chatter level was certainly high enough for me to understand the enormity of the responsibility that awaited me, right?
Wrong. It didn’t even come close.
Maybe it’s an awkward thing to warn a bright-eyed couple about the rigors of raising teenagers when they want to know what it’s like to be a parent. Or maybe there just isn’t enough time to get to the part where your sweet kid isn’t happy and you can’t fix it with a cookie. As mentors of parents-to-be (and I now count myself in this cohort), we need to do a better job pulling back the curtain and shedding some light on the years after the “What to Expect” books end, if only to paint a full picture as to what you are REALLY getting into with the whole parent thing.
I wish someone would have told me that the years I spent protecting my children from danger were far easier than the years when I had to STOP protecting them so they could learn to fend for themselves. I wish I knew that all the time I spent teaching them the golden rule wouldn’t mean squat when another person in their life fails to abide by it. And my exasperation with the hundredth time they asked me “why?” when they were toddlers was nothing compared to my desperation the one time they asked when they were teenagers, and I didn’t have a good answer.
Saturday night I brooded. My discomfort level was high enough that I wondered if I was really cut out for the job. As I busied myself at home with menial tasks that passed the time, I envied my friends who chose not to have children. Clearly, I thought, they knew that this was coming. Why didn’t I? I hated those few hours as my imagination had its way with me. I finally took to my bed with an ear towards the door, waiting for Dave to arrive back home with the boys, which he did, on time and without incident. The dance was “pretty boring” and for this, I was seriously relieved. Sheesh, I thought, I need to get a grip. But I know I am only on the first rung of the anxiety ladder which I will repeatedly in the coming years as the boys become grownups.
I remember hearing time and time again from parents who came before me that their love for their children was like no other they have ever known. Having children fills your heart, making you feel warm, gratified and whole. Hokey? Yup. True? Indeed.
But parents-to-be should also know that a love so large inevitably will not only fill it your heart – it will also crowd it. It will stretch, and pull and push at the edges of your soul. And when that happens, boy oh boy, does it smart! These days, my heart feels more crowded than ever as I watch my boys grow outside my protection. It’s a challenge I never considered when they were growing inside my body.
Maybe no one had the guts to tell me back then. No matter. In the end, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.
Do I wish I was more prepared for this time in our lives? Yes, I do. Would I have abandoned the endeavor of motherhood had I known that loving them would hurt as much as it does sometimes? No. It may not be the most comfortable feeling, but I’ll forever choose a crowded heart. It trumps an empty one every time.