Edgy Mama: Kids giveth and kids taketh away

My book club, along with every other book club in America, recently read Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. When we discussed the story, one of my book-club buddies noted Gilbert’s courage in venturing off on a yearlong spiritual search for self. But, she added, for those of us with kids, that amount of time and space for self is fricking impossible (OK, she didn’t say “fricking.” I did).

Not that Gilbert suggests that we all take a year off and travel to exotic locales to find ourselves. Most of us couldn’t afford it anyway. But the idea of doing so is sparking some deeply held desires in the book’s readers, especially for those of us stuck in the widening gyre of child rearing.

Sure, we parents might make it to a therapist every once in a while, or disappear for a weekend yoga retreat every few years. But most of us give up a huge percentage of “self” time once we reproduce. The extent of my self-reflection lately is catching sight of my face in the bottom of a saucepan and thinking, “Girl, you need to put on some makeup.”

In other words, I had no idea before I became a parent what a long-term selfless act I was committing to. Some days I want to get right up in God’s face and say, “Why did you make sex so great and then make having kids so hard? Are we still being punished for those Garden of Eden errors? Is this our karmic destiny? And why are you laughing so hard?”

Some days I know I’m nuts to have taken on kids and all that comes with them. Other days, I can’t imagine how flat and dull my life would be without my personal knee-biters.

Then I realize that maybe, just maybe, raising kids constitutes part of my spiritual journey. Choosing to offer my kids much of my time, focus, devotion, money, truckloads of worry and patience (my personal bugaboo) seems to be making me a better, if more scattered, person.

When I pause to take deep cleansing breaths so I don’t knock my kids over the head with that saucepan when they’re fighting—that’s yogic, right? Kind of like when Liz Gilbert was meditating in an ashram in India and working to accept and soothe her inner demons. My job, as mom, is to accept and soothe my outer demons, otherwise known as my offspring.

Many of the gifts my kids give me contribute to my spiritual growth and happiness. For example, the other morning, my son climbed into bed with me, much earlier than I’d like to wake up, and whispered in my ear, “Mommy, I think I heard a footprint.” I woke up smiling, even though it was 5:45. I know the memory of his words will make me smile for days, possibly years, to come.

Or when my daughter, proud of her report card, graced me with that bashful smile that means she wants acknowledgment, but doesn’t want me to smother her with praise. Somehow, I managed to compliment her while holding back my natural inclination to over-enthuse. I know we’re learning how to interact healthily. Then I hid in the bathroom and high-fived myself in the mirror.

And yet, if you are considering breeding, but aren’t sure if you’re ready to dive in the deep end, you’ve probably heard ad nauseum about the joys kids giveth. And you’ve probably heard as many stories about what kids taketh away. Yes, the possibility of quitting your job and traveling the world for a year will disappear. Your new reality will include working your heinie off for the next 20 to pay for diapers, day care, braces, summer camp, shoes and college. Believe me, once you commit to kids, it’s a long time before you come up for air.

Here’s the stone-cold truth of the matter. You must agree to give up sleep, sex and the society of sane adults for most of the first year of each child’s life. You must provide a safe environment for your offspring, even though everything in your house is now a potential WMD. You will forgo movie theaters in favor of Netflix, which you’ll never have the time or energy to watch. You’ll give up fine restaurants in favor of those that don’t mind having 17 crumbled crackers flung in a 3-foot radius. You’ll deal with projectile vomit, diarrhea, snot, and other disgusting bodily fluids on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis. You’ll break up sibling fights, work to uphold self-esteem, and try not to react when your teenager comes home with an earring in his lip. Basically, you’ll agree to love, support and nurture your kids until the day you die.

Even though I’m feeling envious, and yes, a little bitter, about Liz Gilbert’s big adventure, I’ve made my choice. And that choice includes messes, worry, sticky hands, bashful smiles, and big, big love.

Anne Fitten Glenn is a freelance writer based in Asheville. She covers a number of topics (including parenting) on her blog, www.EdgyMama.com.


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9 thoughts on “Edgy Mama: Kids giveth and kids taketh away

  1. JenniferSaylor

    Anne, I loved your article because even though I don’t have kids I think life is a series of tradeoffs and it’s a rare one that involves no positives.

    Also, my sister once said “I hear footprints” one scary night when were were small, and we are still laughing about it more than 30 years later.

  2. summer

    Girl, I gotta say, all that sounds appealing in it’s own way.

    I read the book and loved it. So much so I was tempted to pick it up and reread it immediately. But I’ve got to tell you, I have no urge to run away from my life to go find myself.

    It worked for her, which is awesome, but I’m finding that for me the best way to find myself is through living my life day-to-day. I chose each morning to wake up and accomplish whatever it is I want. I work hard, I meditate, I do my yoga and eat decedent deserts for lunch (chocolate mouse cake today) from time to time and I’m finding that who I am is in the daily.

    There’s a temptation to run away, to start over somewhere else, but I think that when you find a place that’s Home – be it a city, a community or your personal family that shares you genetics – the place where we find who we truly are is beside them, sorting out us and them each day. I think sometimes we just forget to stop and notice it.

  3. restless

    My BC is reading EPL (we take three months per book), so one of our members alerted me that the author was on Oprah last week. I curled up in front of the TV at 4pm (ignoring my kids) to catch the show. There were all these women gushing over Liz Gilbert and telling stories of how she inspired them to “live”, for lack of better word. It’s like in one fail swoop, this woman gave thousands of women permission to live/ follow their dreams, or just take time for themselves which i think is great. But I must say that I wanted to throw up.
    Her book did resonate with me in many ways – i liked it and was especially intrigued by the meditation part. It didn’t make me feel like I was missing anything (by being married with kids, a dog, a mortgage,etc, but maybe it should have) but it did validate what I do for myself and the adventures I have shared with my boys the last two summers.
    This parenting (and marriage) gig certainly isn’t a cake walk – like all the holiday cards & photos portray – but I wouldn’t trade it for a trip around the world.

  4. Laura

    Just what I needed to read at just the right moment! I, too, read Eat, Love, Pray and thought the writer was so selfish- probably because we have to be so selfless as mothers and this is hard for me to do. I want to be labeled a free spirit again…
    but it probably won’t happen until I’m 65, though! Oh- I had one projectile vomit on me just a couple of hours ago…. luckily those were jeans that needed to be washed a few wears ago!!!!

  5. Helen

    Having only reproduced once, I’m often amazed that women actually choose to do it again! Hats off to those of you that can handle more than one. I love my two sisters so much that I can’t imagine growing up without them. So surely I am glad that my parents had more patience than I have. Lucky for me, my son is a wonderful young man now…but if I had an additional child when he was a teenager, I think I would be jumping off a high bridge.

  6. Kent

    I loved Elizabeth Gilbert when she was on “Little House on the Prairie.”

    But seriously, EM, your journey is a whole lot more important and valuable (and a lot less self-indulgent) than hers. All you’ve got to figure out his how to make it pay (and I mean big $$$$$$.)

    And take this as a consolation: You haven’t had to spend a single moment in Eustace Conway’s company.

  7. Rio

    When I had the pleasure to meet and converse with LG last month, she did mention that a stay-at-home mom with young kids told her she envied her and wanted to escape. She asked LG for advice. LG talked about how much she admired women like her and that it is definitely more demanding than what she has done. She said each of us should try to find our own ways to take care of ourselves (if it’s yoga, meditating, or eating dessert for lunch – and I choose the latter!)

    I also asked her if she considered that she was on a pilgrimage that year, because that’s what it seemed like to me (coming from my theologically warped brain!) We discussed it with a wonderful English Prof who is from Poland, and LG said she really thought of it as a quest. The more I think about it, the more right I think she is. My quest entails trying to figure out how to live with my life partner (a never ending journey), how to enjoy and parent my two kidlings, and how to work in my chosen field and find joy and peace in it.

    I do think too many women are busy running the world (by parenting, working, housekeeping, etc.) and do not have time to reflect on what that means for them and for other women.

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