I don’t recall looking forward to motherhood. I don’t remember it being a central part of My Life Plan, the way some women might have memories of playing house and pretending to be moms from childhood. I do remember having a good laugh with my best friend in college as we read through a fourth grade journal of mine, one in which I wrote about my sincere hope that Christ will not return until I’ve “had sex and become a mom.” I suppose you really can’t have one without the other, logically speaking. Kids are just one loooong reminder that you had sex once.
And kids were always a part of my husband’s plan. As an Army veteran searching for post-war purpose, kids seemed like a meaningful and rewarding challenge. He has so many great gifts that make him an awesome Dad. But I don’t think the reality of raising kids matches up to the picture he had in his head.
I know it doesn’t for me.
You may have met folks who talk about parenting as “rewarding” and “precious.” I think they’re just trying to convince others to have kids so they aren’t the only ones living out this waking nightmare. Misery does love company. But if parenting is so exhausting and awful (which it is – it really, really is), then why did I do it twice? And why have we cancelled my husband’s vasectomy procedure multiple times, because we’re crazy enough to want to do it again?
I’ve been working, lately, on answering that question. Knowing how difficult this parenting gig is, and knowing how insanely complicated and painful the world is (with no sign of getting much better), why the hell do I want to keep procreating? I tell myself that I’m trying to make the world a better place, to restore a sense of hope by creating life and raising it up to add beauty and order to this mess. But, come on – I have no clue who these children are going to become. They might be axe murderers, for all I know. Or Ke$ha.
At least a small part of my motivation is purely selfish: it’s fun to be pregnant. Okay, not physically fun. Physically, it sucks major ass. But pregnant women get special attention. We get doors held open for us, kind smiles from complete strangers on the street, everyone wants to ask all about how we’re doing, and buy us a beer (juuuuust kidding). But you get my drift.
Having a baby also fulfills the same need for me that gambling does for many people. It’s a complete roll of the dice. From the gender to the personality, every outcome is different, and surprising, like opening a gift on Christmas (albeit a gift that sneezes in your face, eats all your food, and never stops talking). And although I totally utilized epidurals (plural) for both babies, it was still super empowering to push them out, despite the fact that my husband still claims that he technically did the work of delivering Joey, because I was, allegedly, “asleep.”
Of course, part of my urge to have children is pre-programmed – we’re genetically predisposed to want offspring, because that is how our DNA survives. It’s really running the show here. And, considering the fact that my eyesight, teeth, and skin are, at best, sub-par, my genes have really pulled one over on Darwin. We should never have made it past the sabretooth tigers and woolly mammoths of cavemen days, and I am so grateful to exist in an age where LASIK, braces, and billions of quality skin products can mask the Quasimodo lurking underneath. I no longer have to worry about predatory animals, but I will probably wear my retainer until I’m 100 to ward off recurring nightmares that my teeth have gone wonky again. That is how I deal with my demons.
My kids will probably hate me until they’re old enough to test these advanced orthodontic and cosmetic tools, and I’ll probably hate myself when I have to take out a loan to pay for them. But in the modern age, we have to acknowledge our aesthetic shortcomings, and the fact that our horrible eyesight might take us out of commission in the event of a global catastrophe. I instruct my husband all the time to leave me behind in the event of a zombie apocalypse. I’ll most likely slow him down, or mistake him for a zombie when my glasses fall off. Poor guy, he’ll be forced to tell future generations that “grandma died trying to make out with a dead person,” but at least he’ll get so much post-apocalyptic tail as a widower.
In any case, it isn’t just my genetic programming that keeps getting me knocked up. It’s also the fact that kids are just like heroin. I mean, I’ve never done heroin, but after watching a Netflix documentary about the substance, it sure sounds to me like my relationship with my children is eerily reminiscent of a junkie with his fix. Ninety-eight percent of the time, my kids torture me. They battered my body coming out, and they still beat me up daily, wanting to be held, carried, and needing picked up after. They’re mean to me, they do whatever the f*ck they want, and make me so, horribly, irreparably tired, and haggard. I’ve only been a mom for three years, but looking at my face, you’d think my kids are eighteen and out of the house. It’s my “f*ck all of this” attitude and general malaise that make clear my kids are still at home, defeating me on the regular.
But my God, when my kids play together, make me laugh, or tell me I make them “feel comfortable” (whatever that means), I get SUCH an intense high! In those few, fleeting moments, I’m ready to pump out twenty more kids. I just want to create more of that feeling. I’m addicted to it. And think of all the house chores we could get done with a small army!
The truth is, despite all of the shit you have to wade through to get to the pot of gold, there is absolutely nothing in this entire world like creating life, and then watching that life become something amazing, do things independently, and have original thoughts. Who cares if most of the time those thoughts are about destroying the things in my house that I hold most dear? Eventually, they’ll be replaced by ideas for cancer cures, and about how to create world peace.
And although it sounds hokey, I love that my kids force me to change. They do, they push me to my absolute limits, and require that I face a lot of the shit inside of me that I probably would never have dealt with on my own. If you think you’re 100 percent a good person, full of only wonderfully kind and beautiful things, kids will expose that you’re actually full of shit. My kids show me the true underbelly of my human nature every single day. They show me my darkness, and yes, my light, too. But parenting, like marriage, will bring you to your knees in humble gratitude for the moments you manage to get it right, and it will make you really, really excellent at apologizing for the moments in which you completely botch it.
I’ve never had such a big responsibility before, nothing quite as big, or as permanent, as helping to shape a life into adulthood. The pressure of it is crushing sometimes. I feel paralyzed all the time when I have to make decisions about raising these kids. Everything from what to make for dinner, to whether or not they watch too much television, sends me into an absolute, maniacal tailspin. But my husband pointed out the other day that he often defers to me when making decisions about our kids, because I’m usually right (so, naturally, I wanted to memorialize that statement forever in writing).
That may or may not be true, but I will say that I’ve gotten better at trusting myself, and at just making a f*cking decision already. Because you have to! You can’t stop time, you can’t get around making these decisions, you have to just choose one and move forward, whether toward victory, or defeat. I wouldn’t say that my self-confidence has grown to where it should be for an adult female of my species, but I’m much better at almost imperceptibly faking it until the real thing one day materializes. So that’s progress.
Look, maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better about having kids, because I can’t go back now. The cats are out of the bag, as they say. In fact, the cats are now shredding the bag into ribbons and setting it on fire. But I do know for a fact that if I didn’t have kids, I’d be somewhere in the world right now desperately wanting them. Perhaps the grass is always greener. All I know is, this is an experience in life that I wanted, and so I’m doing the damned thing. And I’ll stand behind my decision until the day I die.
But man, it sure would help my case if the kids could just become famous musicians, or doctors, buy me a mansion, and set me up for life.