April 29, 2011
By Ekta R. Garg
This week after the girls’ dance class, I led them to the car and made sure both got in their car seats before unloading all the gear I carry every Wednesday. Aside from my own purse, I often cart my laptop with me for the half-hour of completely kid-free time I get. With Two’s potty training a work-in-progress, I still carry a “diaper bag” for her, although the diapers have long since been replaced by Pull-Ups. The bag also includes the assorted crayons, coloring books, reading books, and other odds and ends used to keep the kids entertained at a moment’s notice. Each girl has her own dance bag with her dance shoes, and then we also do a quick snack and cup of milk after dance class. So there’s a snack bag and a keep-cool bag for the milk.
Yes. Every week I drag all this stuff with me into the dance studio and somehow manage it all as I also manage the girls putting on their dance shoes, taking off their street shoes, holding on to their cups of milk and their snacks, somehow finding the determination to turn on my computer and work for 30 minutes…on and on and on.
As I dropped one bag after another in the back seat and the passenger seat of the car this week, another dance mom came out to her car and observed me for a moment with sympathy.
“It’s so hard to take care of kids,” she said. “It’s such a pain.”
She meant it as a moment of bonding, and for a second my gut reaction was, “What?! A pain?! How could she, as a mother, say that?!”
My second reaction was—brace yourselves—she’s right. At the risk of sounding completely politically incorrect, it’s an absolute and complete pain to have kids. Taking care of them, of all their stuff, of always being at the beck and call of people under three feet tall.
And so, here are some (although certainly not all) the reasons why being a parent is such a pain.
1. Sleep deprivation—I distinctly remember feeling full comradeship with zombies after having both my kids. You know, the zombies they show in those old horror movies? The ones walking around dazed, arms out, rocking back and forth slightly on their feet as they put one step in front of the other? Do you know why their arms are out like that? It’s so they don’t run into anything because they’re so SLEEPY!! Those zombies are not alien beings or some other paranormal creatures—they’re parents who are dealing with young children.
You parents know exactly what I’m talking about. Getting up at ridiculous hours of the night to face a crying/screaming/playing/chattering child who decided it was a good idea to do any or all of those things at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. or whatever. Then feeding said child, never mind how much food you yourself might have gotten during the day (more about that in a minute,) changing said child’s diaper (can we say “royal treatment”? They don’t even have to take care of their own bodily functions!) and trying to remember which way the bed is so you can crawl back into it and pretend to sleep for the next hour or two until the whole process starts again.
But just because my kids are no longer babies doesn’t mean I’m still not getting up at night occasionally, which makes it worse. The kids lure you into thinking you’re getting your sleep back, and then one of them gets a cold and gets so congested she can’t sleep through the night. So you’re summoned by a scream or a cry, again at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., and this time it’s worse because, after all, what can you do for middle-of-the-night congestion other than pat the child on the back and say she’ll be “better soon”? Would that make you feel better? It’s no wonder the kid keeps screaming.
When people look at me occasionally and say, “You look tired,” I have an urge to say, “You bet I do. I’m a parent.”
2. Food deprivation—Anyone who has tried to go to a restaurant with a child under, say, a year old will know this one. Said child starts screaming/crying/making a fuss for a variety of reasons, and you shovel the food down your throat as fast as you can so you can get out of there and not face the looks of compassion from other parents and disgust from non-child patrons.
But at least you can leave a restaurant. When the fussing and the crying happen at home, all you can do is try to cajole, entertain, scream, and bribe the child into finishing the meal. In between all these methods, you’re still shoveling the food down your throat as fast as possible, only to have to go to the kitchen later on, bleary-eyed and trying not to rock back and forth from one foot to the other, as you deal with the dishes and everything else. And leaving them for the next day only works for so long; eventually you’ll have to evict the roach colony that will take up residence on your counters if you let the kitchen go for too many weeks.
I don’t know how many times I’ve been in a situation with a fussy child and looked down at my own plate, only to wonder when I’d eaten what was on there and even to struggle to remember what it contained in the first place. No joke, I’ve actually stared at my plate for a few minutes after some meals and had to concentrate in order to recall what I’d eaten.
Some parents (like the one I’m married to) have issues dealing with dirty diapers during meals. I personally didn’t have a problem changing a poopy diaper or (now) helping a child with a poopy potty during any meal. I can switch off the senses needed for one task to deal with the other. My husband flat out refuses, though. He says he loses his appetite, and I can respect that. I certainly don’t like looking at poop while I’m trying to enjoy good food. The association between the two crests the gross factor for me. And even though it has to be done, I just wish that we could go a whole month where I didn’t have to worry about anyone’s bodily functions except my own.
3. Intellectual deprivation—Parents of young children should have their own improv show. We are capable, at the drop of a hat, to make up songs, stories, and stupid faces to distract a child from a scraped knee or a desired toy/food. There should be an award for this one. Has anyone else felt their college education leaking out of their ears as they sing, “Stop, water, stop!” at the toilet to encourage a child to wait for the tank to fill completely before flushing a second time? Sometimes we add a dance to the song, or sometimes we just jump up and down in place because the cadence of the words demand some sort of movement. We’re just not sure what that movement should be.
It starts from the time they’re born. We begin making the dumbest faces and saying the most nonsensical things at the children. At those times I really wish we had a way to read babies minds because I’m sure they’re thinking some unkind thoughts about these people who apparently have the task of caring for them.
We sing them all these songs and read them all these books to “expand their horizons” and to “encourage reading and learning,” but isn’t it ironic that we get stuck singing the alphabet over and over, or vicariously savoring green eggs and ham for the hundredth time, or watching that stupid spider go up and down the water spout several times a day? Did we really ever debate the significance of global warming or examine Anna Karenina or debate about the political implications of the Pearl Harbor bombing?
4. Mood deprivation—Two has taken it upon herself, on occasion, to look at me and say, “Smile, Mama!” if I don’t happen to be doing so at the moment. But what if I don’t want to smile? What if I’m in a lousy mood? What if it’s been a crappy day because my husband and I had a fight, or I have my period, or it’s raining, or someone cut me off on the road? What then?
I can’t even claim my bad moods for myself. I’m required to be in the mood appropriate for the moment. If Four is having a fit because she’s not allowed to watch “Tangled” for the seventy-fifth time this week, I have to remain calm. I can’t just scream back that it’s stupid to watch one movie over and over and she should “get a life” (as we adults tell each other so often.) I have to be rational. I can’t just sit in the corner, cross my arms, and declare that I’m not talking to anyone (another thing Two has been known to do.)
When do I get to enjoy a good bad mood? When will I have the freedom to just cry and throw things because I feel like it? Is anyone else sensing a gross imbalance here?
5. The deprivation of free hands—For little people, they have a lot of stuff. See my opening paragraphs above. And what’s more, they don’t carry any of it themselves (when they’re really little.) They just assume you’ll have all they need and will carry it too. But the only thing worse than having to carry it all by myself is negotiating with a child what she can and can’t carry herself. They get to that age when they’re convinced they can do everything the adults can do, and then not only do you have to carry all the other stuff, but also you have to watch them carry whatever item it is, make sure a Ford truck doesn’t take out both of you (or sometimes all three if I’m with both kids,) and not trip in the process. And people wonder why moms dress in mostly sweats and T-shirts; we’re too busy carrying everybody’s stuff to take the time to put on anything else!
Parenting is a pain with a capital P. So what if you have these young people who look to you as the gold standard in their lives, who are ready with a hug and a kiss no matter what time of the day or night, who understand the world in easy black-and-white terms? Who cares if they force you to appreciate little things like the joy of homemade cookies or a cool rock or putting on their socks all by themselves? Does it matter that they’ll say “I love you” for no reason at all, or tell you you’re beautiful with messy hair and ugly clothes, or believe that everyone in the world is capable of being their friend?
Pain. It hurts so good.