After giving birth to my oldest son, life changed dramatically. I was now completely responsible for every detail of life for this tiny non-communicative person. At least, I thought that he was non-communicative. Then I learned, like an anthropologist, to watch for patterns in behavior and noises. Before long, I was able to tell the hungry cry from the anger cry from the pain cry. That was my first clue that this was going to take just as much study and learning on my part as it would for the growing and developing baby. It wasn't at all like the sculpting of raw material into a perfect child who would then become a paragon of a man - the one my imagination had created during my pregnancy. No - I was on his turf, and as each subsequent child arrived at our house, outnumbering the adults and transforming our house into Lilliput, I became Gulliver - the giant in a land of small human creatures. It is their culture that I learn, their languages I respond to, and their imaginations that define our household. Not that I let them run the roost - there is discipline, and I am a serious parent - but the little people's interests often supersede my own. I'm not complaining; living in a world where you can be a pirate one minute and a princess the next is exhilarating and joyous. It pushes me to my intellectual and emotional limits as I try to balance living and learning in their world while teaching and guiding them so that they will grow to someday join the land of the big people.
Like Gulliver, through studying the odd habits of this tiny foreign culture, I find myself learning more about my pre-suppositions. Every time I upbraid a child and their response is "why not," I have to pause and really think about it. Seriously, why not eat spaghetti for breakfast? Why not color your entire body with magic markers? Why not wear a Superman cape everywhere you go? And on and on... Why do we do things one way and not another? As adults we get so set in expectations and established thought patterns that we don't even question our actions. Kids force us to do that. In a society that increasingly values self-discovery, this shouldn't be undervalued. The premise of "Eat, Pray, Love," a phenomenally popular book about "finding," oneself, is that "stepping outside the box," going somewhere completely foreign from your own life helps to gain perspective on the pre-suppositions that have created that "box." I believe that is true - it has happened to me. I studied in France while I was in college, and it definitely altered how I think of things. I mark it as a major life-changing event that challenged all of my notions of self. I came back different. But I came back. The perspective shift was invaluable in my self-development, but the amazing thing about being a mom is that kids are not a life-changing event - they are life and change forever and ever - every day is a paradigm shift, an epiphany. Every day I find out who I am again, only to have it challenged and re-created the next day. Having children - living with them, learning from them, teaching them, loving them unconditionally, being infinitely responsible for and tied to other lives - teaches us, helps us, shows us the depths of ourselves in a way that little else truly can.
But being a parent is not all sweetness and light. It is appropriate for my analogy that the Lilliputians captured Gulliver and kept him chained as their prisoner. Sometimes parenting does feel claustrophobic - no matter how much I adore my children and wouldn't give it up for anything. There are poopy diapers and pouting and calls from the school principal. There are those dark and naked moments when inadequacy barely begins to describe how I feel. Night after night of little sleep. Day after day of absolutely never ending demands that MUST be met, and I am the only one to meet them. Even with an unbelievably wonderful husband who is the best of all possible dads, I am, like most moms, ultimately responsible and it overwhelms me. And yet even from this I learn more about myself. There is a raw, primal side of parenting - a "find out what you're truly made of" side. The all-night vigil over a sick child when I haven't had any sleep for what seems like forever taking care of other ill children for several previous nights, and I am also ill, and the fever breaks and the child sleeps just as the baby wakes up crying, and then the day starts and there is breakfast to get and school and homework and every other trivial and non-trivial need to attend to and I'm not sure if I'm even fully conscious or fully human any more. All previous accomplishments and honors mean nothing, all social recognition and status are stripped away; I stand devoid of everything but the core of who I am - and I find out I'm strong. Even if I'm falling apart and weeping like the children I'm caring for, I am still standing. It's a Rocky moment. Nothing can beat me down.
And that is why I'm starting this blog. To share what I learn. It may be just another of the hundreds of "Mom Blogs" out there, but I prefer to think of it as an anthropological journal of sorts - a record of a species of humans with the potential to teach us all more about ourselves - a journey from the heights of joy to the gates of hell without a road map of any kind. If that sounds like an interesting trip, stay tuned....