This is not a post about good parenting. Some might even consider it a post about bad parenting. The trend right now seems to be moms encouraging moms that we’re all doing “enough.” I think that’s wonderful and that even these gracious women of the Church of Enough would observe me for a day and come to the quick conclusion that this enough business does not apply. “No, not you. You’re kind of messing this up to a worrisome degree!” and that would be legitimate.
In fact, I believe I could write the book on mastering the parenting habits most likely to land a child in therapy for the greater portion of his or her life: We go to Zoey when she cries or we let her cry for too long. We take her out when it’s too hot and too cold. We cut her nails at least twice a week and she still wakes up some mornings with her face looking like Wolverine paid a visit overnight. We let her stay up and watch Homeland with us. We let her sleep late and stay in pajamas all day. We have yet to take her for her first French language immersion/music/baby yoga class. We don’t always feed her organic or homemade food. And the audience poll says that the worst crime we commit against our darling Zo is that we sometimes give up on socks and let her go barefoot!! Yes. Some children don’t have clothes or shelter or care of any kind and it is an injustice that my kid’s little piggies might be less than cozy.
I could go on. (I may at a later date.) Today though, isn’t meant to be a brag book about my sub-awesome parenting. Today I want to talk to you about how, in my brief experience as a parent, I’ve come to know the truly ridiculous nature of most things and the only reconciliation I have, so far, found for this experience.
Zo is now at an age where she is becoming more and more “of this world.” Gone are the days when she would just stare into nothing for hours, seeming to connect with something in the great beyond. To our frustration, the techniques of recreating the womb no longer work. Just last week I yelled to Marc, “Do not, I repeat, DO NOT shoosh in her ear! It doesn’t help! It makes things worse!” as he went to check on her at bed time. She is more in this world than the womb now and she really wants a piece of the action. Zoey wants to touch, taste, and see everything that happens around her. She is not OK with being cuddled and calmed or having to wait patiently for food. As I type she is next to me, in the swing that used to be a sure-fire trick for sleep, trying to ingest her second favorite book, “Jungly Tails.” (Wouldn’t it be great if as adults we tried to eat our books after reading them??) Like most people her age, Zoey wants to know things intimately and learns the most about something by giving it a good gumming.
In a way this is a more comfortable stage; she is no longer making it perfectly clear that so much of what we do here on this planet is just ridiculous. Earlier on, I remember dressing her in a girly pink outfit while she thrashed around in protest. I thought, “it’s like domesticating a wild animal” and I whispered to her, “I know, I know. This is really stupid. There are going to be a lot of things that are like this. Just play along. I’ll be by you and we’ll figure this out.” I feel like I might be doing this for her whole life, giving cues and reassuring her that we’ll meet back up and laugh about all of it together: The first time someone teases her. When a teacher punishes her without reason. As she experiences disappointment and has to keep smiling. When she’s told to stop crying over something she finds very sad. There’s an element of ridiculous in so many of our experiences.
I saw this in adult form before Christmas when I was leaving work one day. From the parking lot of our building I could hear, clear as day, a couple across the street arguing over Christmas lights. I don’t think it was really about Christmas lights because what was screamed before the man got in his car and drove off was “well maybe you should spend Christmas with her!!” I didn’t know them and still I felt crushed, betrayed, pained. On the drive home, I noticed all the lights on the houses and for the first time they looked truly ridiculous and tacky to me. I wondered how many homes were filled with families in situations like my driveway fighting friends. I thought of how many parents would put up decorations and cook and prepare for the season knowing that things were not going well, that someone was getting laid off or divorced or an awful, awful diagnosis and I was so upset. I wanted to find the electrical grid for Timonium Road and just pull the plug.
It’s a silly scenario but it somehow got in and got to me. I talked it over with my friend Sarah, who I love. Dearly. Her take on this is that the over-decorating of our awful circumstances is really a way of making it blatantly clear that this is all so eternally ridiculous. We’re laughing in the face of things that feel ridiculously real. Because the only other response is to sink into a strong-brewed sadness over the state of it all.
Laughing or crying, this all brings me to a place where I’ve had to figure out what I know to be real and what I believe is just ridiculous. It’s not a purely existential discernment. It throws shadows on the practical parts of my life: What do I want Zoey to know is real? How do I want to invest my time? What will I choose to celebrate? What is worth getting upset over? And it’s probably very expected and obvious but the only answer I can come up with is love. The kind of love that makes you feel at home wherever you are. The kind that knows none of this is OK and yet you’re OK and I’m OK and we’re here together. The kind that gives us the courage to extend love to others, especially those we feel don’t deserve it, our precious love.
Kate Braestrup sums up the love thing nicely in her interview with Krista Tippet. She pulls in the idea that if what we’re solely giving value to is life- the organic baby food, pretty pink clothes, Christmas lights, and all the other things we cling to in order to keep us here- then we’ve “lost”:
Then if we look at — and, you know, this is an argument I have with, probably a continuous argument I have with Christianity. Is I always felt that it was answering a question I wasn’t asking. And the question of sort of if you decide that the most important thing, you know, the highest possible value is life, that it’s breath in the body and walking around and eating sandwiches and whatever, then you’re lost. Then you’ve lost. You know, because we’re all going to die. So then you have to posit this whole other set of things that you can’t see and you can’t connect with. And as I said, I’m a practical person. I want to be able to see it and I want to be able to do it.
So if I posit instead that the most important thing is love, then what I have is, yes, I have a world that’s full of suffering and evil and pain, and I have something to do. I have something to look for, and I have something to do. And to me that’s — that works better…