Parenting is one of life’s greatest challenges. Under normal circumstances it can cause any normal adult to have an occasional meltdown. Under pandemic circumstances the stakes are even higher.
My son-n-law sent me a text a while back. They have a three year old and an almost 2 year old. I feel their angst.
“Me before kids: I’m going to run a tight ship around here.”
“Me after kids: Annnnnnnd the ship is on fire.”
This insight comes in the midst of a quarantine where Dad is a college coach and the school and all athletics have been shut down. My daughter is only working part time during this craziness. The day care has closed its doors.
So, what used to be a hectic on the go family is now mostly a stay at home unit. They used to see each other in a couple of tight windows morning and evening. Now they see each other pretty much all day and all night and all weekend long.
The kids, I am sure, are oblivious as to the reason for the change, but based on the pics we get almost daily, they are in hog heaven. What they don’t realize is the amount of creativity required of Mom and Dad to keep the ship afloat and the Captain and First Mate from going insane.
Yesterday, it was smoothie time. My phone dinged and via text there were pictures of small children with red ooze smeared all over their upper lips, down their necks and running down their shirts. The smiles were big enough to make an old man want to drop everything and say “Quarantine be #$@*%!, I need a hug from those youngins.”
The next pic was of little Dorothy. She was wailing. They had run out of strawberry smoothie and she wanted more. The smears and the look reminded me of that horror movie clown with the smeared red paint on his face.
Dad text: “I’m currently hiding in the crawl space under the house. I’m scared of her.”
Me: “If her head starts spinning around, get outta there fast.”
Mom text: “Nooooooo. Save my babies.”
Parenting is tough. It’s not a job for the faint of heart. Eventually, you run out of smoothies and games and walks in the park and Disney movies that you’ve seen 1,567 times.
My youngest is tackling the parenting gig by herself. She is a single Mom of a five year old. Uncle helps out when he can. Nana and Grandpa are around for backup. But she’s running solo, which in my book deserves a trophy.
The quarantine has not given her any rest. She is still working full time. Amazingly, day care is still in operation. But she’s also going back to school working on another degree online. After work and after supper and after bath and bedtime, she has books to read and papers to write.
My phone dings. This time it’s a video of a 5 year old jumping from couch to ottoman and back and forth non-stop. The giggles and screams are deafening, even over the phone.
Mom is spread out on one end of the couch with a school book trying to read an exciting chapter on “Managing the Inner Self” for Psych Class. Right now, she looks like she could fail the class. Or, perhaps write a paper about the inner self that wishes it was bedtime for one particular child. Uncle is taking the video.
Parenting can be the toughest assignment on earth. If you’re in the middle of it, you’re always thinking about all of life’s most critical questions.
“Whatever happened to life before kids?”
“How did THAT get on the ceiling?”
“Why wasn’t I satisfied to have just a cat or dog?”
“Do they really need a bath tonight?”
“When did the grocery bill go to $50K a week?”
“Where is MY safe space?”
We went through a period of time when we lived in a little two bedroom apartment about the size of a VW. All three kids shared one bedroom. That place was only supposed to be home for 6 months. It turned out to be our life for 4 years.
The kids were Pre-K, First and Third grades. So, we were in the throes of some serious parenting. We got the last child out of pullups in that place. We had a ceremonious burning of the last Huggies ever required in our house. Soaked it in lighter fluid and set fire to it right there on the grill in the back yard. The five of us standing in a Kum-By-Yah circle around the blaze and watching a season of our lives go up in flames. The kids giggled. Mom and Dad shed tears of joy.
It all passes so quickly. Not in the moment of screams for more smoothie. But in the moment of a time that does not stand still. One minute you’re making up bedtime stories about a King on a journey through the enchanted forest to find the lost treasure. And the next you’re watching them drive off in a used Jeep Cherokee to find their own way.
Nothing in the real world of parenting is like it was on Leave It to Beaver. The real Ward and June Cleaver cannot solve every hard knock with a little chat and a pat on the behind. Even Andy Taylor was too wise for his britches, and I love Mayberry.
Real parenting is about hanging in there. It’s about knowing that they won’t always be whinny when the smoothies run out, or jumping screaming crazy from being shut up in the house too long. It’s about getting up when you are dog tired and doing the same things for them today that you did yesterday, because one day they won’t need you to do that for them any longer.
So, you hide your worst self when you can. You drag your best self out of bed every day to be the only hero that your kids will ever know that doesn’t wear a cape and a mask. And if the ship is on fire, you put it out, set the sails, and forge ahead.
Why? Because being a parent is the best job ever.