Thursday, July 08, 2010
First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage, Then Comes....Misery??
Could this simply be a case of New York Magazine being its irritating, pseudo-trendspotting self, or is our nation indeed overrun by a generation of spoiled brats who decided to have children as a gift to themselves...and are now amazed to discover that childrearing is challenging, difficult and often NO FUN AT ALL?
In a maddeningly shallow and inconclusive article, Jennifer Senior, a writer I often admire, attempts to nail this new reality by introducing us to whiny men and women -- and ambiguous experts -- who support her thesis that the modern American parent hates parenting because it is no fun. Her message is, reader, before you breed, consider the following: You have to make sure your kid does homework and this will produce a power struggle. Your toddler will destroy the object you spent the morning constructing and you will have to give them a time-out. You will no longer feel sexy and edgy. Check out the sordid details here: All Joy and No Fun.
I read this article on a blessedly air-conditioned #1 train during the height of yesterday's heatwave and could barely refrain from losing my cool. Not because I think Senior made the whole thing up; after all, she begins the article with an anecdote about her own toddler destroying the garage she built. Rather, I was aghast at the sheer stupidity of those parents who are shocked and awed by the fact that life changes when you have children. Who are amazed to discover that toddlers are little terrorists. Who cannot accept the fact that some self-indulgent stuff will have to be put on hold for maybe as long as eighteen years as part of the bargain.
Boker freaking tov, Eliahu.
A couple of months ago, I was briefly captivated by a debate raging in Park Slope, Brooklyn, that was playing itself out on the blogs. Seems that it had become standard practice for some parents to shlep their babies, toddlers and young kids to local bars in the evening rather than miss out on all the socializing that the single and child-free were enjoying. Just because they were parents didn't mean they didn't deserve to party! However, fellow patrons disagreed, stating that the last thing they wanted to see during Happy Hour was a small, pre-verbal and bald human drooling next to them...and the last sensation they wished to experience was the crunch of Cheerios underfoot as they walked to the bar to order a beer.
This debate captured my interest because of the self-centered chutzpah of these parents who believe themselves entitled to everything they had prior to the kiddies; their idiocy at lacking the common sense to realize that kids don't belong in bars; their lack of the resourcefulness needed to discover other gratifying activities they might undertake with their kids which would significantly reduce their sorrow at being barred from the bar.
I was also amazed because, throughout the thousands of evenings that constituted my two-plus decades of child-rearing, I never once felt deprived because I wasn't at a bar instead. Especially during those evening hours which encompass dinner, bath and bedtime. I can hardly imagine giving up twilight playground visits for a Cosmopolitan. Or the screening of beloved old films for vodka shots. Or even the drudgery of doing homework together on the dining room table for raucous conversation and the chance to flirt.
Of course, there were plenty of things that were out of reach for me like time for myself or an upscale gym membership or the chance to go to graduate school or buy nicer clothes or hire evening babysitters so HOBB and I could go out more but I didn't cry over what I didn't have. Perhaps my parents raised me right or I had my kids young enough to avoid becoming addicted to my own autonomy but my experience of motherhood was, well, pleasurable. Though horribly broke during that time, we were happy. Rolling pennies to afford tickets to the movies was a bonding family activity. Winning tickets to the circus on the radio was a thrill. Having read Senior's article, I am fairly certain that most of the people interviewed by her would have been miserable in my circumstance.
Which makes them -- not me -- pathetic. It is a gift to have an attitude of gratitude.
I recently remarked to Middle Babe, now a lass of 22, that when she and Big Babe were little and HOBB worked on Sundays, I couldn't believe the great fortune that had been handed to me -- we had a whole day together and I got to be the sole architect of our adventure! And the places we went! Museums and libraries and parks and parties and pools and beaches and little towns on the Hudson River and thrift shops and historic places and amusement parks and friends' houses.
And when Little Babe arrived and my older kids were eleven and seven, we simply toted him along with us, introducing him to the ashram we stumbled onto that served delicious and cheap veggie dinners and had a neat meditation room we could hang out in and the $1.50 movie theatre and the Appalachian Trail and all those 99 cent stores with the sour Charms blowpops -- four for a dollar!! -- near our bungalow and the great ice cream stand that sold doggie treats and the Heritage bike trail and the new promenade along the Jersey side of the Hudson and the new waterfront in Newburgh and the Orange County Fair and the three drive-in theatres near us and the magical lake tucked inside a state park on the border of New York and New Jersey, right near Mountain Creek.
I had my work and I had my friends and I had my extended family but being with my kids was the best fun of all.
That is not a gilded recollection of the variety Senior alludes to in her article. And it goes without saying that there were times of excruciating difficulty -- sickness, trouble, conflict, emergencies, trips to the shrink, the deaths of friends and family members. But I smile as I recollect those busy, long-ago days. I loved being pregnant and I loved having babies and I loved having toddlers and I loved having schoolchildren and now, I love having young adults and a teen. Our dynamic has changed -- we don't have long Sundays together very often and our fights are more up close and personal -- but our present relationship was molded by what took place so long ago, all those sweet evenings and mornings and Sundays and Shabbatot; passing feelings, fleeting glances, shimmering moments, eternity captured in a millisecond.
We are a five-headed organism, the product of innumerable hugs, cuddles, illnesses, crises, tears, laughter, endless conversations, beloved books read aloud over and over and over again, angry words, car, bus and train rides, airplane trips to locales both near and far, museum visits, ice cream cones, movies, studying, fighting, negotiation, dysfunction, transcendence. I emerge into a wholly new phase of my adulthood -- at the age of 49 -- as profoundly shaped by the three Babes as they have been by me and HOBB.
This summer is the very first one in nearly 26 years that I have very few parental duties. Big Babe lives in Berlin, Little Babe is on a teen trip to Israel for five weeks and Middle Babe, who is home for the summer, is a rare presence in our apartment, due to her work and school schedule... and new boyfriend.
I finally have that upscale gym membership and HOBB and I have been on an extended honeymoon, going out every single night, catching up on Mad Men at home, drinking wine at cafes, taking long walks, traveling abroad. For the first time in very long I don't have to make dinner or be home at a certain hour or pay someone to watch my kids or do homework when I'd rather be reading The New Yorker. And come this fall, I finally am going to graduate school.
I love the freedom I have now, but make no mistake, I didn't miss it overly much during the sweet years of full-time mothering.
I had something far, far better. Something precious and evidently, exceedingly rare.