Raising kids isn’t quite what I expected it to be. This is probably going to sound obnoxious to anyone who doesn’t have kids, but you can’t really understand what it’s like until you have kids of your own. Teaching kids in a classroom isn’t the same thing. You may get how THEY work, but you can’t really anticipate how you’re going to react when they’re your own. Everything is more complicated with your own children, because it’s embroiled in love, guilt, worry, joy and any baggage you bring in from your own childhood. It is your overwhelming responsibility to help them become happy, healthy, kind, intelligent and successful people. Since most of us struggle to pull that off for ourselves, it seems nearly impossible to help someone else achieve it.
Our kids don’t make this journey easy for us, either. They don’t give us advance warning so that we can somehow prepare for the challenging moments, difficult questions and parenting dilemmas ahead. Maybe I’m a procrastinator, but I never feel ready. Bug is a smart, sensitive little soul who is always asking a difficult question. I’m forever surprised and thrown off-guard. And I find myself making split-second parenting decisions that force me to commit to a long-term course of action.
Take this gem:
B: Before I was born, I wasn’t alive, right?
B: So before I was born, I was dead?
Me: [to myself: CRAP] Uhmmm…
And this is what I’m talking about. Now I suddenly have to come up with a reasonable answer that reflects our beliefs, but is age appropriate. And I have to decide if we’re (yeah, and there’s the fun part where you have to decide all of this for your spouse as well) going to be the sort of parents who are really honest and direct, or if we’ll be a bit more opaque…
Me: Not exactly. You have to be alive to die, so before you’re born is just before you’re alive. [making another quick decision here] Before you were alive, you were an egg and a sperm.
B: I’m not an egg!
Me: Mama had an egg and daddy had a sperm and they came together to make you.
B: Daddy had a sperd?
The conversation went on like that for a bit, but you get the general idea. Now I’ve introduced the idea of an egg and a sperm to my precocious four-year-old. Wise choice? Who knows? I will very likely live to regret it, since he has an astonishing memory. The point is that nearly every day as parents, we reach a fork in the road. Usually it’s not so simple as to choose between X and Y. More often, there are what seem to be unlimited choices. It’s like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story with infinite possible endings and someone else’s life at stake.
Am I being melodramatic about this? Perhaps. But this was a relatively trivial decision in the scope of parenting moments. Each time I pass one of these forks, I breathe a sigh of relief, but then play over the actions in my mind in different ways. After all, you never quite know what moment your kids will remember and use to guilt you with when they are older.