Any parent will be able to testify that parenting and child-rearing is a difficult and often thankless job. From the moment you find out you are pregnant, you have to come to terms with a new reality; your time is not your own, and you will need to subordinate your own needs to those of your children. That’s not to say that the moment you become a parent, you get it right every time. Far from it. We snap, we lose our temper and patience, and we constantly are engaged in a struggle against shouting out: “Can’t you just amuse yourselves for just five minutes?!? Is that really asking for too much?”
I became an aunty when I was eleven years old, and doted on my nieces and nephews so much that I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a mother. During periods of my teenage life, I would often have the kind of dreams that are so beautiful that you wish you never woke up from – dreams about giving birth and having a baby. Granted the dreams were romanticized, and the labor didn’t involve excruciating agony, but rather were Hollywood-inspired, where my face was glowing with joy and ecstasy, and I was enveloped in this deep sense of serenity. It was picture perfect, and I couldn’t wait to turn the dream into reality.
At the age of twenty-five, I became a mother, and while the pregnancy left much to be desired, and there were times during Eliana’s first year when I was itching to be back at work, and found myself bored at times, I never in my wildest dreams – not even those that occupied my teenage years – could have imagined the elation that accompanies parenthood. When you get married, you learn to look at yourself in the mirror. For the first time, you are not the only person who has to live with your behavior, and your actions are held up to the mirror, and you see yourself as someone else sees you. Parenting is an extension of that. You learn that you have endless capacities for love, and you learn that even though you are a shameless shopaholic, nothing brings you more pleasure than buying something for your children, and seeing the look of joy on their face. And you learn that nothing makes you happier than knowing that they are well, happy, and feel safe.
I am sure I am not alone in feeling that as a parent, you grapple with the urge to wrap your children up in cotton wool, and do your upmost to protect them from anything unpleasant in the world, but of course, not only would it be impossible, you would be stunting their development. They have to fall in order to learn how to stand up on their own two feet.
When Eliana was about eight months old, she was sick with a high fever, and she was miserable for days. She was lethargic, she wouldn’t eat, barely drank, and her sleeping was erratic. It was as if a dark and heavy cloud had descended upon our house, and I was racked with fears, most of them irrational. It was Friday night, and Josh and I had just finished eating Friday night dinner, and after four days of Eliana being lethargic and totally disinterested in toys, we saw her crawl over to a toy car, and start playing with it and giggling. Without saying a word, Josh and I looked at each other with such relief and happiness. Later, we discussed how at that moment we really understood what it was to be a parent, to feel such immense love for your child that your happiness is contingent upon their happiness and wellbeing. We were so relieved to see her come out of her misery that we were ready to do jigs and dance round the room.
Now, four years later, we are often sleep-deprived, and my conversations with Josh when the kids are around are inevitably always cut off. I can’t remember the last time I was able to finish a sentence when the kids are around; there are always interjections and requests and fights between the girls to mediate, but even with all of that, your child can say just one sentence, or give you a smile, and it will make all the exhaustion and frustration pale into insignificance.
Yesterday, I picked up Eliana from gan, and I told her that I missed her all day. My (not-so-little) girl looked me in the eye indulgently, and said, “But Mummy, I can’t stay home all day. I have to go to gan and see my ganenet and see my friends.” It was such a beautiful and poignant moment, and it made me think how important it is to hold onto these moments in your heart, because they are the ones that will carry you through the sleepless nights and the endless demands on your time and energy.
After Josh and I got married, Josh was telling a good friend of his how our wedding day passed by in a blur, it all happened so quickly that it was hard to remember what happened. His friend replied that life is like that, it goes by so fast that you have to consciously remind yourself to live in the moment, and when you are experiencing something that is amazing, you need to stop yourself from moving on to the next experience, and be at one with it. It is all about finding beauty in the ordinary day-to-day routine of our lives.