On Parenthood

Being a parent is not what I expected.

The word parent is so boring. So blasé. Commonplace, even. Before becoming one, I pictured ill fitting jeans, responsibility, and the exhaustion of serving up mundanity to my children day after live-long day.

As far as words go, parent was the opposite of romance in my brain. It was the opposite of sweeping love and wild adventures. Of emotion so strong that it could drive you mad.

But then we had Linden and I was cracked open like a nut in gale-force winds. I held my new baby in my arms, and felt ravines of emotion crack within me. As wild as a wolf-howl. As sweet as mountain spring water. I know I’ve written things like this before, but six months in, it still continues to surprise me.

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In the months that have followed since Linden’s birth, it’s become abundantly clear that parenting holds the sweeping emotions, the romance, the wildness that I craved as a hormone-addled teenager.

I remember longing to experience something larger than myself–wishing for cross country road trips and unexpected romance and wars and battles. I wanted love so strong that I’d be willing to die for it. And I found many of those feelings in my romantic loves.

Falling in love with Jordan was sweeping. All consuming. But it was a different kind of love–love with a measure of equality in it. I didn’t love him more than myself. His needs and wants did not come before mine. When we got robbed at gunpoint, I didn’t think, “I’d much rather I died than he did.” I just didn’t want either of us to die.

But something about having a baby opened me up to the world in a way that is new to me. If I were in that situation with Linden present, I’d rather die one million times over than have him harmed. I can understand now how Lily Evans stepped in front of Harry’s crib without a thought for herself (side note: when you reread Harry Potter as a parent, you realize that it’s all about the depth of parental love).

Parental love is so selfless, it’s breathtaking. Even six months later, I’m trying to reckon with the rawness of it.

It’s like the protective shell that I built up through my life–thanks to hardship and disappointment and loss and fear–fell away. Now all of the ills of the universe hit me harder. The careful apathy that I tended for so many years has disappeared.

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Pre-baby romance

Feeling everything more deeply is a double-edged sword.

The wonder that I feel sweep through me when I look at my son is coupled with empathy for people who have lost children, who want them and can’t have them. I can’t imagine what they’ve gone through, but I’ve taken a step closer by understanding how deep that love runs.

I can’t handle Facebook anymore. The tiny disappointments of my friends, the crushing sadness of social ills and climate change and political strife, empathy for parents and children who have lost one another, all stack on top of each other until I have to sign out for a week.

I can’t handle murder mysteries involving children. Can’t handle scenes in movies where children die. Last January, Jordan, Jenna and I listened to an audiobook on our way home from New Jersey. Its plot centered on the abduction of a teen who is forced to have a baby, and then has the baby taken from her. I found it so disturbing that I still can’t get it out of my head. It haunts me. The layers of parenthood in it hit too close to home.

But the other side of that rawness is so worth it.

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The actions of parenthood might sometimes be mundane–wiping butts, coaxing out boogers, snapping onesies–but they’re marked by an undercurrent of love. Of complete and total awe of the small human forming before you.

Linden started eating solids this week, and watching him experience new flavors for the first time has rocked my world. It makes me taste my food in all new ways–the bite of pepper on our venison. The sweetness in carrots. The hint of lemon in our salad dressing. It’s like coming alive again.

I can see how people lose themselves in their children–how easy it would be to live vicariously through him. Parenthood is love so strong that it’s like the tides of the ocean. Sweeping, vast, inescapable.

It’s insane to realize that the parents who came before me loved like this. To think that all those men with ill-fitting pants and bags under their eyes–all those typically dad dads, might have experienced sweeping, vast love. To think that all those moms–with their giant purses and doughy bellies–knew all along that being a parent is actually one of the most radical experiences on the planet.

It makes me proud to join their ranks.

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