Friday, January 4, 2013

On: The Heartbreak of Parenting

With all of its flaws, the english language rarely fails me as significantly as it did recently.  There must be a word that accurately describes the experience of parenting, I thought.  Bitter sweet? Heartbreaking? And many alternatives on either side of these admittedly mediocre middle choices.  I've been blessed recently with the opportunity to spend significant time with our two year old son, David, and it has been both the literal best, and in many ways, figurative "worst" few weeks of my life.

When you find out that you are going to be parent everyone, and I mean EVERYONE has advice for you.  (I'd be lying if Jenn and I hadn't succumbed to the allure of offering advice to would be parents, although I try to avoid it.)  "Sleep as much as you can now," "Sleep when the baby sleeps," etc.  Come to think of it, much of the advice pertains to rest, which is likely a candidate for a blog post of its own.  The one thing nobody told us, is that parenting is heartbreaking.

Heartbreak conjures images of teenage angst and John Cusack holding a boom box over his head.  This isn't quite the feeling I wish to convey with this, admittedly inadequate, phrase.  A couple days ago I was engaging in my son's favorite activity, "Jump on da bed, Dad?"  He doesn't actually jump on the bed, as much as he rolls around and likes to "Hide on the bed", read: get underneath the covers.  So we were underneath his quilt, enjoying time together resting on the pillow, which he requested, pretending to sleep, again at his command, I mean... request.  In that moment, cuddling with my son, the world faded away, and it was just the two of us.  My heart was so full of love, appreciation (there goes the english language failing me), that it figuratively, and perhaps literally ached.  It felt like a blink of an eye, an interesting turn a phrase, and the moment had passed.  Over the next few weeks there will be many more moments like this, but before long, his desire to cuddle with Dad will pass.  I wanted to reach out and take hold of my son, preventing him from aging another minute, to somehow keep this moment from slipping out my hands like a soap coated glass on its way to the ground.

There it is.  In a paragraph, what I wish I could convey in a single word.  There is likely a word in a different language (isn't there always?) that captures these emotions.  Nobody warns about what it feels like to sit in the waiting room while your child is in the operating room, to cry as your son calls for you in fear while in a time out, or to lay under a blanket and feel your son reach up grab your face and nuzzle your nose.  With children, even the word emotion seems empty.  With children, when you feel, good or bad, it is all encompassing.

So given all of this oration, how is it that I could describe having all of this time with my son as, in any way, the "worst." All of my life I have gone to school, or worked, and held busy hours.  This was no different when David was born, and has continued up until this wonderful sabbatical.  However, it has provided a sharp contrast for me, as to what I miss out on in my child's life while I toil away.  How do I reconcile my desire and need to provide for my family, with my desire to parent, and be present for the amazing moments I have experienced while being home with my son?  For those parents who are blessed, yes blessed to stay home with your children, let this serve as a reminder that you have the absolute best job in the world.  Full of much work and heartbreak, but the kind that will stay with you for as long as you live.  I will end this, now essay like blog post, by confessing that I love my family.  My wife and my son constantly make me step back, and be eternally grateful.  Nobody warns you that with parenting you will experience frequent heartbreak, and love it.

"For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love."
- Carl Sagan

"So, do live and be happy, children dear to my heart, and never forget that, until the day when God deigns to unveil the future to mankind, all human wisdom is contained in these two words: 'wait' and 'hope'!"
- Alexandre Dumas

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