The blogosphere's ablaze with studies revealing the desultory inconveniences, suspect agendas and financial burdens our children bestow upon our lives. Procreators and procreators-in-waiting dutifully peruse these offerings alongside their “What To Expects.”
Yes, as a parent to human children, you will deal with ungodly amounts of barf and poop. They will fail to "do" at least one major hallmark of early childhood (such as eating). They will commit offenses -- and many of them will be indictable.
But by FAR, among my friends, the greatest threat to our parental integrity is our very own boredom.
Kids are dumb, for all intents and purposes. I would gleefully change 89 shit-drenched diapers rather than listen to myself explain why the sky is there and when it got there and what is air pressure and which birds can’t fly and why is wings.
We are tired. We are Gen X’ers and Y’ers new to the world of unbroken responsibility. We just want our lives back (if we had them to begin with) and we’ll settle for 30 minutes of uninterrupted, mediocre legal drama.
Consider the qualities you value in friends. Curiosity, openness, essential goodness? Sure, kids have some of those. But are they good listeners? No. They suck at that. Are they well-traveled? Yeah, to the potty (if you’re lucky). Do they give good advice? Absolutely not. Are they there for you when you’re down? Nope. Do they pay their part of the check when it arrives? Do they have private airplanes and estates in wine country to offer? No. They can’t even tell a joke. And they need you to wipe their butts for six years.
It’s not that we don’t love our kids. Or that we don’t mark their each and every developmental twinge with appreciation and wonder. It’s just that each one of those twinges comes with its own epoch of absolutely nerve-fraying days and nights of repetitions and platitudes, and there’s hard labor to boot. Sure, you need to build your endurance for giving birth, and then the teenagers. But what about the in-between?
A 2010 study by Disneyland Paris showed that “as many as 30 percent” of parents find playing with their kids boring. But that’s just the ones who will admit it -- the Europeans -- and that’s just when it comes to playtime. And parenting is something you do, of course, as a matter of existential commitment, in the Samuel Beckettian sense of “what to do” -- for eternity.
Parents, particularly coupled parents, often seem to go through troubled times once the first child gets to be about 3 ½. That’s when you get to exchange diapers for a few pieces of your self (beyond the reptilian bits at least). You rediscover you have needs. You find many of them have been neglected. It’s a little like waking up from a coma.
And your partner or social support system may have unlearned (or never known deeply in the first place) how to meet those needs. And it just so happens that this key moment in co-parenting coincides with the most apocalyptic collision in all of blooming toddlerhood -- High Inanity, meet Peak Bossiness! Hence people do crazy shit and some don’t come back to the freakin’ nest. And not even because someone pooped in it.
So the parenting books do tell you to brace yourself. But they don’t tell you for what -- that’s what I’m doing, and not just for the handle of Jameson’s. Brace yourself for nothing. Lots of nothing. Days and nights of nothing. You want parenting advice? Chances are you’re more likely to saw your own arm off than catch little Clementine’s in the 3-row SUV door. More apt to find yourself gouging out your eye with a sippy cup than darling Sebastián is to lose his on the jutting edge of the coffee table. You will feel more inclined to sic the dog on Jackson when he wants you to sing “Alice The Camel” one more time than you will to wrestle it off his baked bean-covered face. Endurance, people. Endurance.
So unless you are one of the apparent tens of millions of my compatriots who think TV is a suitable nanny, this is my advice: Find a way to gird your fucking loins for an epic showdown with monotony personified.
The best thing you can do for your kids is in fact get real comfortable with boredom. I wonder sometimes if this is what a lot of proto-parents actually fear when they announce that “I’m just too selfish to have kids right now.” That comment is easily and vocally dismissed by those of us on the other side of the hump -- as a mark of youth; by a simple contrast to all the obviously shitty parents already out there; by truism in terms of how “You’re never really ready,” “The minute you see her face it will all change,” and so on. And those dismissals are valid.
But at the heart of it, maybe these disavowers sense what is staring us in the face (every morning, too early, with mixed-up pronouns and sniffly noses and empty tummies and musings on the genealogy of Elmo) -- if you do plan on devoting yourself entirely to your progeny, your devotion will routinely face palm. And then it will do it again. And again. And then it will want to know why.