I was a perfect mother before I had children.
I do everything I said I wouldn’t do. My kids eat chicken nuggets and hot dogs and mac n’ cheese. They watch TV.
I say things like, “The next person who touches me is going to bed!”
I try to teach them to be respectful, to have manners and good posture and to remember their pleases and thank yous.
I’m doing my best to prepare my kids for adulthood, but in some ways it’s a futile effort.
Think about it. What did you imagine being a grown up was like when you were little?
I was going to be a veterinarian who lived in my split level house with a couple of boyfriends(I had multiple crushes going in elementary school) and my dog and my hamster. I would stay up late and eat bottomless bowls of orange sherbet, in between crimping my hair. I would wear sparkly blue eye shadow and I would have money to buy Jordache jeans. It was going to be amazing.
This is how I know there are some things I can never tell my kids.
The following list would break their little spirits. They would never understand it, because I didn’t, until I lived it.
1. You will worry about money. A lot more than you thought. This is not about whether you wind up rich or poor. You will probably end up somewhere in the middle and you will still worry about your mortgage, the grocery bill, the private school tuition, the one summer week at the beach for the family, the college tuition, the 401k, the catastrophic illness you didn’t see coming that ripped the bottom out of your safety net. You will worry you spend too much at Target and that your husband will ask, “What did you buy for $170?”
You will want things you can’t afford and sometimes you will buy them(you will convince yourself you deserve it), and then you will regret it. You may need us to bail you out, and we probably will, if we can.
You will be shocked at the cost of diapers/daycares/nannies/tutors/sports/school tuition/summer camps. You will yell at your kids to turn off the lights when they leave the room and you will get out of bed to make sure someone turned down the thermostat. You will clip coupons. You will stop clipping coupons. You will clip them again. You will pump the cheapest gas and you will be annoyed when your wife goes out to lunch with her co-workers too often. You will tell yourself not to worry about money. You will still worry.
2. You will fail and you will disappoint people. You will disappoint yourself. I’ve been divorced and I’ve been fired. Both came as a pretty big shock. I could explain how my firing wasn’t personal and a bunch of us got canned by a new boss as soon as he took over. But I still got fired, and I still got divorced (and that was very personal and I won’t explain that one). I thought both would kill me. They didn’t. But they did change the course of my career and my life.
Your failures will change you and the course of your life. You will have small stumbles — a bad grade, a speeding ticket, a college rejection letter. You will have bonafide falls — a car crash that is your fault, a bad review at your job, a forgotten anniversary. You will be tempted to blame life. You will want to sit on the couch muttering how unfair it all is, and how this stuff only happens to you. Have your pity party, then get your butt off the couch and go back to trying to get it right. Admit you screwed up. Say “I need to drive slower.” Say “I’ll work harder.” Say “I’m Sorry.” Just learn from it and do better.
3. People you love will die. When I was 12 years old, my cousin Jamie died from leukemia. He was two years younger than me and the first person I knew who died. I remember my aunt screaming and screaming as they took his coffin away. I still recall the hollow feeling in the center of my chest that day, like it had been hole punched out.
You will feel that way. You will know a kid at school who gets sick and dies. Someone you know will die in a car crash after high school or college graduation. You will hear about a friend of a friend who is sick or who has died. Then it will be your friend. Or your friend’s husband. Or much worse, your friend’s child. You will go to funerals. You will be terrified of losing your wife or your husband or your kids, because you now realize you don’t get to have forever. You will question why some people are so unlucky, and you will feel guilty for being so grateful that it’s not you or your family. You will realize your mortality and it will make you appreciate your life that much more.
4.You will experience incredible love. I can’t guarantee this one. But I pray it happens for both of you, because when you find the right person, it brightens your life all the way back to the darkest corners. It won’t be the giddy kind of rush that comes from butterflies. It will be the kind of deep contentment that comes from feeling like you have finally found your way home. Your dad is my home and you will hopefully seek out an imperfect-yet-happy marriage like ours. You will think you’re never going to find him or her. Then you will. You will know it. When you tell us two weeks after you meet that he/she is the one, I will worry you have lost your mind (your Father will probably be his happy self and will try to remind me about us. I will ignore him).
5. Then will come the love you never knew existed. This one I can guarantee. If you have kids, you will love them so fiercely you will frighten yourself. When you were born, I realized I was capable of murder. I have played out the various ways I would extinguish anyone who tried to lay a finger on either of you. Parenthood is terrifying like that.We connect with the animal side of ourselves.
In exchange, we discover a love that goes so deep it is beyond reason, and it is the most miraculous-life-affirming thing I have ever known.
Don’t get cocky. You both make me crazy and I could throw you out of a moving car sometimes, but I would kill anyone else who tried to throw you out of a moving car.
Your children will be the greatest surprise of your life. They won’t be perfect, they may have special needs, they will disappoint you, and they will sass you. They will be selfish and demanding and unreasonable. They will stumble and fall (see above section) and when they do, you will feel as if it’s happening to you. Their disappointments and pain will be yours (and you will pray and bargain with God to make it be you instead, but it won’t work). You will remember that I told you, “You’re only as happy as your least happy child,” and you will be so annoyed that I’m right.
6. You will wonder what happened to your dreams. As a non Jordache wearing, non veterinarian with just the one husband, I have wondered how my childhood dreams morphed into this other thing — a thing filled with crazy high utility bills and kids who could care less what I want to be when I grow up (that’s another thing no one could have explained to me). Your exterior will start to age and it will scare you because inside, you’re still you, and you still have things to do, but there’s no time because it feels like all of you is committed to everyone else (bosses/husbands/wives/kids).
This is when I want you to remember something I have told you so many times it will have become white-noise-parent-heckling — ‘If you focus on what you don’t have, you will never have enough.’ Until now, you will have shrugged it off as another one of my ‘Mom-isms.’
Here’s a confession. I have despaired. I have thought, ‘What’s the point of all of this?’ During those times, driving down the road, clenching the steering wheel, I would make my list: your father, nana and pop pop, your aunt Lisa, my best friends, you two.
Life is not about the what, it’s about the who.
In the end, heck, even in the beginning, that’s what life is about — love. Your greatest and worst moments will be because of it — your wedding day, the birth of your kids, the inevitable loss of us.
Life will strip you to the bone. More than once. And love is the the only thing that will save you. I have given you love of God, love of each other, love of yourself. I have given you all you need.
Someday, you will live what I’ve written.
I pray you learn what I did, that the reality of the life and the love I had, surpassed anything I could have dreamed.