Saturday, December 28, 2013

All Joy and No Fun

I have become obsessed with a book I haven't read yet. It won't be released until the end of January, and yet I somehow believe I know what is contained in the pages. Or rather what I hope is contained in the pages. The book is called All Joy and No Fun by a journalist named Jennifer Senior. The tagline is "the paradox of modern parenthood". The amazon review begins: What are the effects of children on their parents?

NOW. If there is anything more terrifying to a parent...anything more likely to be mentioned in hushed tones or secret emails or (gasp) suggested as the reason that one would need a drink, it is that Life Just Might Have Been More Fun Before We Had Children.

Just the thought of admitting it makes my mouth fill and out tumble a thousand caveats.

Of course I love Purslane and Knox.

Of course I am grateful to be able to have children. After being diagnosed with idiopathic infertility and conceiving Pursy with the help of Clomid, I am very grateful.

Of course they bring joy to our lives and we are blessed with health and energy and resources to enjoy a million happy moments without care.

Of course I wouldn't do it any differently if I had the chance.

So with those truths out of the way, I will say that I do remember the days before having children and how beautiful and simple and carefree they were. If any season of life looks more magical in retrospect, it has to be the time where you had money and independence and a million options in front of you. Grant's season like this was immediately post college. He had two degrees from an Ivy League university on his resume, a car with his name on the title, and (thankfully for me) decided to move to Colorado and play for a few years. My season was in the middle of college when I was recently dumped and heartbroken, all my earthly possessions fit in my tan Toyota Corolla, and I was driving I-70 West to finish my undergrad at the University of Colorado.

As beautiful and carefree as that season was, with all its possibilities, it wasn't flawless. Grant spent too much of his time drinking Southern Comfort and watching Sports Center. He camped and hiked whenever he wasn't at work, but always alone- his pictures of places and things instead of people and smiles. I was working night shift at Denver Children's Hospital and going to class during the day. I had a couple bad relationships and a couple good ones, lived with different roommates and did a lot of yoga. We could make every single one of our life decisions based on exactly what we wanted to do and what experiences we wanted (or were willing) to have. There were dates and camping weekends and sleeping in and concerts until 2am and lazy Saturdays at a coffee shop and all the fabulous things about being in your 20's with money and autonomy. That freedom is exciting but a bit drifty on your own. So when we collided in May of 2003, we were two decently happy individuals but deciding to get married didn't feel like giving up any freedom, just the added bonus of having someone there to hold hands with. Life was fun.

Enter the second season of pre-kid years. We were married for six years before trying for a baby and spent those years building a marriage and a friendship that we plan on hanging on to until one of us dies or Jesus comes back. We had rough years and brilliant years but neither of us ever seriously thought of throwing in the towel. We collected fabulous friends and had money to travel and move across the country for graduate degrees and whims. We did what we wanted and over the years realized that we were lucky enough to have similar taste in a wide variety of things. Houses, music, clothing, colors, books, movies, dogs, bedspreads, food...we truly enjoyed living together. We had dinner parties twice a week and weekends at the cabin and hours of conversation with friends and morning sex. Life was so fun. And if it stopped being fun, we changed something up.

And then we had Purslane. She changed our lives a tremendous amount, but I continued working and Grant had a flexible graduate student schedule so we were together as a little threesome quite a bit. We spent hours talking about parenting and future plans and together we read her books and fed her handmade baby food and bathed her and when she was finally in bed for the evening there were HOURS to watch the Pirates on TV or create dinner from Food and Wine recipes or sit on opposite ends of the couch and read different books while our legs intertwined in the middle. We were having fun as parents. She came everywhere with us, mostly as an appendage hanging in a Moby or BabyHawk carrier while we went to shows and museums and libraries and restaurants. We rarely used a sitter because we were showing her the world. If one of us got tired, we passed her over to the parent with renewed energy and we went on our way. Then we got pregnant with Knox. I was pregnant on Purslane's first birthday, because we had decided not to go on birth control in case we had fertility issues again.

Pursy's first look at Knox.
Knox came along the day Pursy turned 18 months. Now we had two babes and I dropped down to working one day/week. We talked about my taking some time off, but I loved my job and with the flexible schedule of a nurse, we couldn't find any reason not to make it work. So I went back to working night shift, Grant finished his PhD and we moved to Pittsburgh. This is the first time I really felt like parenting was costing me a little bit of my fun. I could no longer just put Pursy on my back and go out for a long walk or let her take her nap in the stroller while I had a coffee at a café with a girlfriend. Grant couldn't take both babes to the park without 45 minutes of diaper changing, snack packing, extra clothes thinking...and at that point one of them was melting down anyway. There were two of them now, and we were making decisions based on practicality and survival.

 Now certainly having two children is not all sweat and tears. There were beautiful things about having two babies and there are fantastic things about having two toddlers/preschoolers. Our children seem to have an innate sense of adventure, brilliant imaginations and limitless energy. They are the loud ones in church, the top of the monkey bar ones at the playground, and the giggly noodle covered ones at the restaurant. We hit the jackpot with both of our babes.

But there are no more long leisurely walks that come without strollers and sippy cups and extra diapers. Neither of our children would tolerate being carried for five steps, let alone around an entire museum. Babysitters are our favorite people in the world and grandparents are even better. We crave moments of silence or books with a bookmark moving towards the last chapter. We plan and adapt and lower expectations in order to meet needs. And there is so much joy and laughter and spontaneous dance parties in our home. We are a family, complete with crazy parades and sighs of thankfulness sent to the heavens when a child running full tilt for the street stops when I yell STOP from the porch. We don't pretend to be anything other then full on parents of young children- especially when we remind new friends on their way to the bathroom that we have a recently potty trained toddler and they should check the seat before sitting down. We delight in our children. But that does not mean that we have fun all the time.

So back to this book, All Joy and No Fun. I am so excited to read the thoughts of a parent brave enough to loudly proclaim the simple reality that parenting is all-encompassing and asks for just a little more then you thought you could give without losing your mind. It is full of joy, indeed. And fun, quite a bit of the time. Just not all of the time. And THAT is just fine. There is no guilt in remembering the pre-kid years when joy and fun walked hand in hand. When the weight of decisions wasn't so heavy and didn't impact so many people. When responsibility meant taking care of just one person instead of the gorgeous child in your arms needing you to make the best choices for you and for them. It isn't always a slog and it isn't always two tons of fun. Parenting is the most difficult thing I have ever done in my 33 years of life. It was my choice and I don't look back (too often).

And usually among the four of us, someone in the room is having fun... pass the train caboose, Knox.

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