Parenting is full of a lot of hidden truths. There are whole books parents can fill with the things we tell no one, not even other parents. We don’t tell others because it will either A) discourage the continuation of the species, or B) reveal us to be the incompetent, making-it-up-as-we-go-along caretakers of our out-of-control hellions that we know we are. Some days are good. You can point to something that happened and stand in awe of your parental prowess, or of your kid’s accomplishment (which we, as parents, use as stand-ins for our own accomplishments). But the bad days are the ones we don’t talk about because we’re all afraid we’ll be outed as shams. Maybe our shoddy parenting will cause Them to take our kids away. Maybe we’ll prove our mothers right that we’re wasting our time parenting when we could be working a “real job.”
In their best forms, the bad days are those in which you can take no pride in anything you’ve done as a parent or in anything your kids did as, well, kids. And yet, you’re still, somehow, too proud to admit this. I recently had one of those days. It isn’t that I especially did anything bad. I didn’t punt Jack into the lake, or force Joshua to listen to Loudhouse all day. But aside from taking in story time at the local library, our day was unstimulating, banal, and full of unnecessary confrontations that could have been avoided by me simply having some activities planned like I normally do. Jack did nothing of note, just more baby-ing. Even in his swim class, Joshua didn’t show any progress from earlier classes. The highlight of his day was getting a handful of candy from his swim teacher, most of which he couldn’t eat because he dropped it on the locker room floor.*
Realistically, not every day can be a win. Some days are just survival. Even babies and their crazy baby learning powers don’t learn new things every day. What’s troubling is that, when you’re mired in a bad day, all you can remember are other bad days. Your perspective becomes that of the folks chained to the wall in Plato’s Cave. You only see shadows and flickers of the good things around you, but most of your focus is concentrated on the fact that you’re chained to a wall in a cave.** It’s super easy to get carried along in the current of negativity.
A problem I’ve had is that kids don’t give a damn what mood you’re in or how your day is going. They’re ego-centric narcissists whose thoughts stray not once to other human beings. Jack’s a year old, so I’m not really expecting a lot of altruism from him. Joshua, almost five, has flickers and flashes of being the kind of guy we want him to be. But most of his caring and concern is directed toward his stuffed dogs whose days seem to be unpredictable pendulum swings between manic euphoria and inconsolable despair.*** So when I’m having a less-than-great day and my only humans to talk to are a combined five years old, I know I’m playing to a dead crowd.
The good days outnumber the bad, and it’s not even close. I don’t mean to paint a picture of some grim existence in which I toil thanklessly and endlessly. I’m not chained to a cave or anything. We have lots of fun, and my life has never experienced joy like seeing my kids do something they haven’t done before. Joshua has begun reading — really reading — and Jack managed to figure out how to pull the throw pillows off the couch in order to use them as steps to get onto the couch. Ok, that last one isn’t quite as big a deal as the first one, but since the kid spends most of his day trying to get me to do things for him, this is progress. My only point is that kids engender amnesia. When they’re at their most trying, they make you forget all the wonderful moments. And those wonderful moments make you forget all the trying ones.
There’s a saying in Normandy, France. I don’t speak French, and neither do I really trust Google Translate to do it justice, so I’ll just offer the English. They say, “The weather in Normandy is nice, many times a day.” This is parenting in a nutshell.
Or a cave, I guess.
*I know some parents are ok with the 5-second rule, but I don’t think this threshold exists in a locker room.
**I don’t know if chaining people to caves was common practice in ancient Greece, but it’s got to be one of the crappier things you could do to somebody, then as now.
***Seeing him give his dogs time-outs is one of my private pleasures**** for its earnestness and absurdity.
****”Private pleasures” sounds like a porno about the army.