Wednesday, August 01, 2012

All Joy and No Fun?

We are snuggling down for the night.  I take holy water and make the sign of the cross on John's forehead.

"Jesus, bless John," I pray. "Watch over him, protect him, and keep him safe . . ."

"And give me a pistol," John adds.

I move over to Ainsley who is prattling away with that stream-of-consciousness chatter that an almost three-year-old girl can produce effortlessly.

"You're big, Mama," she tells me. "And when I'm big again, I'm going to hold Timmy when he's little again."

If this confuses you and me, it all makes perfect sense to Ainsley. She then changes the subject.

"Why were you crying in that picture," she asks for the twenty-third time.

That picture.

When Ainsley was in pillaging mode a few days back, she stumbled upon that picture, the first picture snapped of me and Tim. Tim is red-faced, stiffly bundled in his hospital issued striped blanket. I am red-faced in my hospital issued night gown.

And I'm wailing.

It's not one of those sweet, touching cries, a tasteful Hallmark moment. No, this was a twenty-one hours of labor, failed epidural, rough delivery, oh my gosh here's my baby, wrinkled mouth, swollen face, dripping nose, ugly cry.

The kids, of course, don't get that this was also a happy cry, the happiest cry of all.

I've never posted that picture, first of all, because it's a print not a digital photo but, secondly, because it's almost too personal, too intimate.

We continue winding down. I hug my now five-year-old boy and my almost three-year-old girl. And I thank God for their sweetness, for their energy, for the girl with the squishy cheeks, for the boy with the Coppertone tan.

If you follow the mainstream news outlets, you'll find more headlines linking children with discontentment, marital strife, even depression. New York Magazine explains Why Parents Hate Parenting: All Joy and No Fun. Click here to read their rather grim and dour report.

Commenting on this article over at CNN, Amitai Etzioni writes:

Like the annual outbreaks of flu, every year brings a new round of attacks on having and raising children. Some years, it takes the form of articles pointing out how expensive children are. You could buy a fully loaded Porsche for the $250,000 a child costs you these days, we are told.

Etzioni, a father of five and now a grandfather, continues:

We need to return to a precept that social philosophers and religious texts have long extolled: that a good life is not one centered around squeezing as much pleasure out of life as possible. Pleasure of the kind celebrated by those who would rather go out for dinner than stay home with their infants, watch TV than change diapers and gamble than attend a PTA meeting -- is Sisyphean. No sooner does one gain this kind of pleasure than one is lacking it again. No wonder it has been called the hedonic treadmill.

Read the rest here.

(True confession: Though I taught a mythology unit eight years running, I had to look up Sisyphean. I'm fairly sure I can't pronounce it still. Definition: actually or seemingly endless and futile).

It should be no shocking news to anyone that parenting is hard, hard work. I shared my thoughts on this subject here.This evening spent luxuriating in my youngest children followed a day that had its trying moments. John spent the pre-dinner hour running up to Ainsley and yelling "zombie!" and watching her scream. If her shriek didn't threaten the lead crystal, it certainly put both my ear drums and my nerves at risk. After dinner we dashed to the pool to cool off and chill out but arrived just as the thunder did. Pool closed. The rain meant that we wouldn't fit in a swim and that the grass wouldn't get mowed. But the double stroller we left out back? It's now soaked.

It's life, real life, not a Sunday night Hallmark special, not a sanitized episode of Little House on the Prairie where both joy and grief are orchestrated and all loose ends are neatly tied up before the final credits role.

There were other blessings of this day, I'm sure, and other trials as well.

Some days my job does seem Sisyphean in that my tasks seem endless; never, however, do they seem futile. Okay, so refolding the previously folded laundry? Yeah, that one probably rates somewhere on the futility chart. Sisyphean!  But investing my time, talent, and treasure in these eternal souls is a far cry from a pointless.

Is my life all about seeking pleasure -- fun, really -- or something deeper? The Greeks might have called it purpose. Contemporary Christians might call it vocation -- a divine call -- or apostolate -- the mission of an apostle. Whatever its dubbed, it's hardly futile.

CNN's column ends on a positive, if sobering, note:

I must admit that recurring references to the indignities of changing diapers and boring children surprise me. I was much more taxed when I had to hold my kids down while they were getting stitches in the ER, when they took the car for a spin for the first time on their own, when they did not come home on time late at night, and when one was diagnosed with juvenile melanoma and it took awhile before I learned that it was not the type of cancer that ended the life of his grandmother.

All this pales in comparison to when I lost a son and had to live with the fear -- which many parents share -- of what fate had in store for the others.

Nevertheless, my children were and are the greatest source of contentment in my life -- one that stands as other fortunes ebb and flow. My children have provided boatloads of joy and grief and meaning. And now they have given me a whole slew of grandchildren. What fun -- and no diapers to be changed (by me).


claire said...

Thank you for tackling this topic. It is so sad to see these statistics about parenthood. Part of me can relate, only in the sense that guilt, comparisons and second-guessing have been a huge component of my motherhood experience, and that can certainly be a kill-joy. But on the other hand, motherhood is the most meaningful relationship I've ever had, and seeing the world through my son's eyes brings me a joy that far outweighs the tedious aspects of motherhood.

Kelly said...

Claire - I totally agree with you. And I guess if there is an upside to studies like this, it is that we can see the need to be supportive of other mothers and try not to feed the tendency we all have to compare and second guess. Blessings!