Beckett is at a sleepover at grandma’s, Heidi is sleeping, Brody is laying down on the couch, recovering from her surgery. After much deliberation and vacillation and stress, we opted to have her undergo a tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy.
These are never easy decisions – choosing to have parts of another human being’s body removed, choosing to subject a person to the risks of anesthesia and the knives and tools of people, whom, in some cases, you’ve never met. Doing all this without the other person having any say.
Regardless, it’s over now.
She did well – remarkably so, many of the doctor’s commented. Nary a tear through the process. And always that child’s stoic, logical approach to discomfort. More explanatory than reactionary.
I am always amazed at how my children are far more calm – even heroic – staring at the unknown than I will ever be. Maybe it’s the result of living in a sheltered world where you know those around you have your best interests at heart. Consider it one of the benefits of an uninformed, inaccurate worldview.
* * *
Since I’ve started writing, Brody’s moved from the couch to the dining room table. She’s coloring across from me; just over my laptop screen.
I like it back here in the mornings; the desert sun is still soft this time of day, especially given the room’s northern exposure. I can look at the Texas crape myrtle in bloom in the backyard, set beneath the giant Saudi Arabian mulberry.
Writing, with a cup of coffee, it’s my own little slice of peace; a reflective and slow haven in a shit-storm kind of world.
And looking at her, listening to her tell me she’s “excited for Father’s Day” (she’s left now to write a secret message on something she was just coloring), reinforced what I came to know this morning:
Life is full of doubt; but there is never a doubt about your purpose, your mission, when you are caring for a child in need, when you are trying to minimize discomfort or make the pathway a little easier for them.
* * *
Many tidbits of knowledge we digest only through experience; many emotions we learn only from being in the moment.
The best of these emotions are complex and layered. Sometimes they belie logic, sometimes they fall neatly in place inside the square borders that rational thinking creates.
The whole: “when I am caring for my kid, I know all is as it should be” emotion? I guess, 10 years ago, I never imagined such a thing could exist.
When other family members, or pets got sick or needed help, through my teens and 20s, I certainly felt sad. I wanted, emotionally and logically, for them to get better. I mourned when they died.
But I wouldn’t say that I ever experienced fear.
Fear is a strange and jarring emotion that surrounds parenthood. And being a successful parent, in my view, means destroying that fear in many instances. Your children must jump bicycles and climb trees and take risks, because it is essential for a healthy attitude towards life, and you must accept that they will get hurt.
Just as you did.
But you’re also responsible. Let go of that fear too much, to the point where you’re reckless, and the consequences can be dire.
You get no break from this either. Second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour, it’s there. A constant +1, or +2 on your shoulders.
So it makes sense that those moments when you know what you’re doing is correct – helping them get better – feels so damn good. That it feels so perfect.
It’s a relief. Quite simply, for a couple hours you can sit back with your cup of coffee, and say, “I’m doing this shit right.”
* * *
I say all this in the context of a world where it’s become increasingly stylish to claim parenthood is something to regret, something to blame for a life unfulfilled.
It’s certainly more trendy among certain subsets to bitch about how much being a parent can sometimes suck (with a clear acknowledgement that, “Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids”), than it is among others.
But I want to make one thing clear, because I have thought long and hard about this:
Becoming a parent to two children, aside from marrying Heidi, is the best thing that has happened to me in my life.
It’s those little emotions that come unexpectedly – those “I’m doing this shit right” moments – that make the second-by-second burden of parenthood worth it.
For those who’ve never experienced such things, trust me, they are powerful and lasting. Far more so than that raise, or that signed, sealed and delivered project. They’re payoffs on investments whose value cannot be measured.
Before fatherhood, I found fun in many places. And I found sincere happiness in the presence of my family and friends.
But I could never have told you the meaning of life; or understood that real and whole fulfillment comes not at the end of some long-planned journey – you know, when-I’m-a-published-writer-I’ll-finally-be-satisfied type stuff – but in administering Tylenol on a calm Saturday morning to a 6-year-old.
Before fatherhood, I never knew fulfillment required such an investment, or that it would arrive so unannounced, with such silent ease.