Thursday, November 13, 2008

How Is it?

My friend A, whom I hadn't seen since long before Ben was born, asked me this weekend, "So, how is it?" "It" being parenthood, life with a baby, the Brave New World. Perfectly rational, normal, polite question, right? But I don't think anyone had asked me before -- or if they had, it was back in the severely sleep-deprived first few months, and I don't remember.

I found myself flummoxed for a second. How is it? How do I even begin to evaluate? It's like asking me how I enjoy being an earthling, except of course I can remember a time when I wasn't a parent. But it's that level of all-encompassing experience, all but impossible to have the perspective to take a critical position. Which is pretty much what I said.

But I've been thinking about it. How is it? Big picture, broad strokes.

It's exhausting. Not nearly so much now as it was when the kid was around eight weeks, but still. Then, I hovered between functional and not, and the combination of the exhaustion and frustration brought me to tears several times a week at least. And I'm jinxing myself by saying so, but it's been some time now since I've felt anything but functional or parenting has made me cry. But I'm tired a lot, and I almost never wake up feeling fully rested.

It's full of joy. One of the things I've always loved about my dogs is how happy they are to see me. A beaming baby, half his face opened by a grin, puts all dog greetings to shame. And all his small accomplishments of development are sources of pride and wonder. He can pass an object from hand to hand! He can smack! He can blow raspberries! Every week there's a new tiny miracle that bowls me over not just with love and delight for him, but in the amazing and complicated process of becoming a person.

It's full of tedious work. I have to do laundry pretty much every day to keep up -- and that's with disposable diapers, which is why I'm not using cloth. (And I don't feel guilty because of this.) Changing diapers and dressing a squirmy little person and lugging him around and around the kitchen because he'll fuss if I don't -- these are not fun parenting tasks, and they occupy a big part of every day.

It connects me to the world in a new way. I have something in common with a staggering number of people, something really big and important in all our lives. This is both lovely and brutal. Lovely is the depth of fellow-feeling between me and random new parents at the grocery, the ease with which I can fall into meaningful conversation with other mothers of babies, the new richness of my relationships with friends who are or are about to be parents. Brutal is all the news stories that suddenly kneecap me, the starving and abused and lost and terrified children who are all Ben.

It is and is not what I expected. I think this is what my friend really wanted to know. He's only recently come around to the idea that maybe he wants to be a father after many years of believing strongly that he did not. You know it's going to change your life. You know it's going to be hard. But you can't really picture it, and no one can really describe it in a way that makes it real.

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