That's a quote by one of my idols, Erma Bombeck.
I loved Erma even when I was a young girl. I devoured books like a moth does a sweater, and if it was on our bookshelf at home, chances were I'd read it. My mom had a nice collection of Erma books, therefore, I became an Erma fan. I also read some Gloria Steinem but go figure, it's Erma that stuck with me.
Erma kind of braced me for the future, in a way. She may have planted the seed that grew into me wanting to be a mommy, in fact. She was wise and funny, and I thank her for the laughs and prophetic visions she provided for me then and now.
But yesterday morning I read a couple of articles that have me thinking about this Erma quote. The first one was on the Smartly.Chicago site, you can read it here. A good, thought provoking post on its own, but the author also included a link to another fascinating read, right here. Go ahead, read them! I'll wait.
I don't ever recall my mom or my grandmas or even my great-grandmas doting on their kids, centering their lives, their very existences around their kids the way women my age, and those coming up the parenting river behind us do. I remember them gathering in the kitchens, sitting in the living rooms, perming their hair, doing dishes, gnawing on chicken bones after a big dinner, but never obsessing over the fact that they were mommies and how dramatically changed their lives were. Children were simply a part of life, like rainy days and laundry and laughter. Good or bad, they were there, they were dealt with and life went on.
The New York article picked some serious scabs for me (sorry, that's super gross). I think my favorite quote out of the whole thing is this one: “They’re a huge source of joy, but they turn every other source of joy to shit.” I love this quote, because it is a classic modern parent line. You first state your love for your kids, because duh, we all love our kids. Then you say what's really on your mind. Think about it.
What were your joys before becoming a parent? What made you smile, made you feel free? What were you working for, what made "quitting time" a relief? For me, it was lots of little things. Payday was always a biggie. Going out with my friends, drinking giant beers at Glueks. Sleeping in. Seeing movies the first night they opened. Sunday papers, Chinese take-out, getting the leftovers from big family holiday dinners. All of these things made me happy.
I didn't plan my first child. If you've read my earlier posts, he was a summer "oopsie" that turned into a baby. But like everything that has happened in my life so far, I ran with it. Because my philosophy of life is a simple one, ironically enough it was also a quote in the NY article:
It is what it is.
Among my friends, I wasn't the first one to start having kids, far from it. I was 27 when Charlie was born, so I wasn't exactly a dewy young thing. I took advice from my girlfriends who had already gone down this road. Signed up for Gymboree classes, ECFE classes, took the walks to the park, all of it. At some point I ended up with three more kids (odd as it seems, all but my first child were planned). It seemed like the thing to do.
And life did become all about them. I remember loving it, loving them, loving the whirlwind that was parenting. There were signs that Big Daddy was less than happy with all of it, I recall a big fight one summer when I told him how much our Park and Rec activities were going to cost. "Everything is always all about them!" he yelled. And I remember thinking, "Well, duh." But maybe I should have listened more closely to what he was saying.
One of the men quoted in the NY article complained about the state of his marriage after kids. He said he felt neglected. This was one of the biggest issues that Big Daddy had with our marriage. I remember I dragged him to see a pastor at our church after he first left, during my "Let's Fix This Thing" phase. He sat there in the meeting, refusing to look in me in the eye, and told the pastor that I wasn't supportive of him, that I spent all of my time and energy on the kids, that our lives had become all about them, and not about us. At the time I wanted to reach across the table we were sitting at and smack him in the head. I wanted to scream, "No shit, slick. THEY'RE KIDS. They need me!". Looking back at it now, however, I see his point. I did live for them, and I guess I still do. But when did that become a big taboo?
And more importantly, when did it become the fault of the kids?
Sometimes I think that he left because of them (let me clarify, not THEM, individually, as people, but parenting as a whole). I would never say that to them, but I really believe that part of the draw, the lure of the Secretary was the very fact that she didn't have kids. She was able to devote all of herself to him, peel his grapes, laugh at his jokes, do all of the things that I did before putting on my Mommy hat. She wasn't tired from chasing kids, doing laundry, breastfeeding, bathing, diapering. Her body didn't bear the wear from four pregnancies. It must have been like sliding behind the wheel of a fancy little sports car after schlepping around in a minivan. I get it.
Do I ever regret becoming a mom? I'll admit there are flashes when I think how things could have been if I had made some different choices way back then. Times when I wonder if life would be easier, prettier, less messy without kids. But regret having them? No. Towards the end of my marriage, Big Daddy once said, "We should have stopped at two." One of my kids overheard this, and still brings it up once in a while. I think that was the day I got my first glimpse at who Big Daddy really was, and maybe then, for a millisecond, I regretting having kids with HIM. Not the kids themselves, but the choice of the paternal DNA. But only for a second. Because, after all, it is what it is.
I think that may be the reason behind this whole "Parenting is hard!!" movement we're reading about now. For some reason, our generation feels entitled. Entitled to have things our way. On our terms. And if you're a parent, you know that if there's anything in this big beautiful world of ours that doesn't give a fig about what we want or need, it's kids. I don't understand why this comes as such a shock to so many people.
Having children isn't something that you do because all of the so-called celebrities are sporting baby bumps, or because everyone in your social circle is doing it. Kids aren't like cute puppies or kittens that you fall in love with and bring home from the pound. They aren't like a fab new Coach purse or a pretty plasma t.v. You don't bring them home from the hospital, set them on a shelf and then take them down when it's convenient or there's a good photo-op. They require work. Sacrifice. They make life infinitely harder than you can ever even begin to fathom.
Erma said, "They make your life important." Not easy. Not glamorous. Not shiny and perfect and clean.
Important. And I do believe that Erma was right.