That’s the only real wisdom I’ve gained in these past eighteen months.
And I don’t mean it in a bad way.
I mean, I do because it hurts and it’s hard and holy hell it’s hard, but mostly I mean this with so very much gratitude.
One of the things that I loved about boot camp (and that wasn’t true about officer training) is that the you (solid. sure of self. you.) that walked in that door fell to pieces under the weight of all that took place behind it. Just fell apart. Got lost. Unraveled. But by the end, you find this new way to patch yourself back together again. And it isn’t pretty. And it’s only neat on the surface; it’s a mess underneath, all super glue and iron-on starch.
But then you discover this thing about yourself: that you can come unraveled and stitch yourself back together again. That you are deeply wound-able. That you break. I don’t mean this as rah-rah-war propoganda-ing. It’s not about the specific stuff that they wanted to break me of, or the specific stuff they wanted to build me back out of. It’s just: you can’t unknow this about yourself. You watch the people leave who don’t have it, the ability to break. They wash out, one by one, and however unjust, you’re still there because you know this new thing.
I’ve thought about this a lot lately. There are indignities to parenting. It will just about kill you. It convinces you in a split second to throw yourself down the stairs so hard you get the kind of injury usually reserved for football players and paratroopers (just please gods don’t let this hurt him). It wakes you up from a dead sleep with a racing heart because your baby isn’t next to you in bed. The pressure of wanting.needing to do well by your children forces from you a kind of otherworldly strength that makes you bone tired. To do it well – to spend these few (fleeting. already fleeting.) years in a way that will positively shape someone’s forever – takes more than you had to give. And there are tears, and Wild Thing-like gnashing of teeth, and doubt, and certainty that you’re getting it all wrong, and profound fear because you’ve caught glimmers of a world in which your child is not okay and the possibility is so possible and yet so unthinkably vast in its impossibility. In its horror. The weight is immense.
And it takes some time to reason that out. So many many sleepless months and hours and nights and so much doubt. And these moments of toddlerhood. These first moments of independence when the pride competes with the terror of them being that far away and fine anyway.
And it will break down your relationships just as much as your own soul. Your marriage most of all, but all of them, really. It will make you partners only in caring for this being for awhile, and the coming back together as something more is painful because it feels like a pulling away. And both ways feel like failing. And you’ll love your partner more than you ever could have loved god because she made him, or because she’s just as scared as you are when his fever hits 105 at 2am and not being alone in that is a gift that she gives you along with the songs she makes up. Along with the dancing. And she’ll hurt you or you’ll hurt her or whatever because there’s no space because parenting these little beings is almost all there’s room for. Like you can’t even stand up in a room. In a bubble. And there’s a choice to make. And you both know that the choice is just: him.
And that much thinking about someone else, the never being done with that, makes you selfish when you have a second. Makes you think so much about yourself because you miss it. You miss it. But then there’s just a smile or a laugh or whatever cliche and the scenery just fades and it even includes you and you don’t care anymore. You’re so happy to fade.
So parenting will gut you.
That’s what falling down the stairs three days after we conceived the fifth child we’ve tried to bring into our family has taught me. That’s what being a mama has taught me.
And every night this week I’ve sung Bram to sleep with this (and a dozen other songs). And I remember singing this song a good fifteen years ago, when what parenting meant to me was a child I almost.maybe had and decided I wasn’t ready for just before she disappeared on her own and left a child-shaped hole that stayed until my bright, shining light of a son’s body clung to mine moments after it left my wife’s.
Parenting will gut you. But I cannot imagine anything more important than that. And this breaking down? It’s so immensely good for me. Do you know what I mean?