In June I vowed to work on parenting. Being patient, making time for play, re-framing the less than happy parts about being a parent. When I started off the month, I thought my Happiness Project goals would be Kate-centered in that I would spend the month ensuring Kate’s happiness.
After reviewing my goals, I quickly realized this month’s happiness focus would not be about Kate per se but about me finding happiness as a parent. Parenting can make me exceedingly happy. Watching Kate take her first steps, master feeding herself, try to say “woof woof” when I ask her what the puppy says. That’s all the fun stuff. That stuff that makes you think to yourself, did I really make this little person? Is she really mine? Am I going to get to watch her grow up and learn to tie her shoes and take her to see the Grand Canyon and wave excitedly as I watch her graduate from high school?
And then there’s the not-so-fun stuff. The weeks where she fusses and fusses and fusses. Refuses to nap. Won’t eat her breakfast or lunch or dinner. Throws herself on the floor in a fit of rage when I won’t let her drink from the dog’s dish or toss my cell phone in the toilet. Those days, I don’t want to be responsible for another person’s cleanliness or sustenance or happiness. On those days I want to take a nap and check out of my role as caretaker.
But that is the funny thing about parenting. Just when you have had enough and reached the end of your rope, more rope appears. And you manage to make it through the afternoon and into the evening and give into a dinner of nothing but french fries and as you rock that baby to sleep, you think, really, there is nothing better than this. Those tricky kids.
Anyway, this month turned out to be more about me finding happiness in being a parent even when the going got tough.
Case in point: earlier this month, I became increasingly concerned about one of Kate’s eyes. I spend a lot of time looking at this kid, so I notice every little thing about her. We were playing around on the floor one day when I thought one her eyes looked like it was not lining up correctly. So, as soon as I put Kate down for a nap, I unwisely spent that time trolling the Internet and reading everything I could about toddlers and eyesight. I managed to convince myself that Kate had some sort of strabismus. And it was probably caused by something terrible. And it was most definitely all my fault.
So, of course, I called my own mother, tearfully relaying my worst fears. Something was wrong with my baby, I let it happen, this is a catastrophe. My mother, ever so wise, listened as I railed on and cried and gave myself the hiccups. After I was done melting down, she asked me if this is the mother I want to be. The mother who pushes the panic button when she does not even know for sure there is something to panic about. No, I did not want to be that mother. That mother who lets her anxiety get the best of her. I need to be that mother who is strong and teaches her children that if something comes up that must be dealt with, well, then deal instead of cowering and dreaming up all the worst case scenarios.
I took Kate to a specialist. We spent a good three hours at that appointment, and I told myself, whatever the outcome, I was strong enough to handle any scenario. If she has strabismus, well, then she has strabismus. And I will take care of it just like I have taken care of everything else. Had I learned nothing from The Jaundice Incident? Really, come on. I have fought harder battles than this, and there will be harder battles to come.
Turned out, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Kate’s eyes. The specialist said often these cutie pie kids with big eyes and upturned noses scare their parents into thinking they have crossed eyes because they give off an optical illusion. But she applauded me for checking it out since Kate is so young that if she did have something going on, it would be an easy fix. She said she wished more parents listened to their instincts and weren’t afraid to confront issues head on for the sake of their kids.
Big lessons this month. Being a parent can be a scary job. I am Kate’s advocate, and that’s a lot of responsibility. I don’t think parents say they are unhappy because parents loose their free time or because their kids refuse to sleep or because their kids throw temper tantrums in the check out line at Safeway.
No, I think parents become unhappy because of the tremendous responsibility that comes with parenting. At your job, you can kind of slack off from time to time, meander your way through drafting a report or what have you. You cannot slack off on your kid. You must feed them a healthy meal, you must take them to the doctor or a specialist if need be, you must look out for them and be their spokesperson. That is a lot of weight to carry. Sometimes the responsibility of a child’s wellbeing is crushing because a parent’s love is so deep and piercing. But that deep love can lead to unhappiness if I feel I am not doing my best, if something happens to her beyond my control. So this month I learned I am a good parent and to give myself some slack. It is okay – and good – that I am an attentive parent who calls the advice nurse line about suspicious looking poop. But for my own happiness – and for Kate’s happiness – I cannot let my blinding love obscure my good sense. And I need to be the type of mom who does not let herself panic, who takes control, who teaches her daughter that whatever comes her way, she can handle it.