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.