Parenting is such a wild adventure. We go places we’ve never been, do things we don’t know how to do, love more than we could have imagined possible, find our anger, tears and impulse to kill closer than ever to the surface, call upon reserves of patience and understanding we never knew. We struggle to master living with two year olds only to have them turn three, read parent books that are meant to reassure and only worry more, compare ourselves obsessively to other parents and only come up short. Could there be any harder work in the world?
I remember a late snowstorm after a hard rain and a long hard winter, walking my son to the subway because the car wouldn't start. Morning rush hour traffic was crawling along icy streets; motors were racing as cars tried to make it up hills; pedestrians were bundled up against the unexpected cold, slipping and sliding as they made their early morning way.
It was a very different tone from that of the first snowfall, when everyone cheerfully complained as they dug out. There was something eerie about the scene, as if the entire city were saying "I can't believe that this is for real." Nobody that I saw was complaining. What I saw was more like dazed endurance, with everyone's attention divided between doing what needed to be done, and not being able to believe that it was really happening. On the way home I slipped and fell on the icy street close to the path of a turning car (whose driver was undoubtedly focused on maintaining enough momentum to get up the hill) and came home more shaken that I would have expected.
There was something familiar about the scene, and it kept nagging at my mind for days. What did it remind me of? Shell-shocked war victims somehow or other getting on with their lives... people expected to endure past any reasonable limit of endurance... parents.
I remember my mother once saying that her years of raising a big family were like constantly being tossed around in a blanket. There's more to do than a body can do. There are countless decisions to be made that we don't have enough information to make well. We are pulled in two--or three, or four--directions at once, called on to draw on resources that we never knew existed. No wonder many of us walk around dazed and glazed--doing our best to navigate through our days and weeks, but not quite believing that this could really be happening to us.
I'm wondering what could have broken the eerie mood of that icy morning. It didn't even occur to me to try to make eye contact with other pedestrians that morning--I knew that none of us were paying attention to anything but the narrow path we were traveling. What if we had looked at each other and said, "Can you believe it?! Good luck with your day." What if the drivers could all have stopped their concentrated careful progress for a moment, rolled down their windows and said the same thing--or screamed, or made grotesque faces in the mirror, or laughed at the absurdity of it all?
There's something about seeing and being seen, taking in the reality, and knowing that we're not alone that would have changed the tone of that morning. The roads would still have been icy, the walking still raw and treacherous, but we would have been experiencing it together rather than separately.
When we're stretched to the limit, the impulse to pull all our resources in, to focus on individual survival, seems overwhelming. Yet those are the times when we need each other the most. We do so much of our parenting alone. Our lives go so much better when we have each other--in all weather. When the fresh breezes are blowing and the trees are in bloom, sharing our joy in the wonder and beauty of the growing lives in our midst makes life even better. When a winter of parenting is long, and one more storm seems unendurable, we can roll down our windows or raise our eyes and make contact with others who are struggling valiantly along the same path. We get to be in this together.
I hope these essays can provide some of the companionship we all hunger for on this wild and wonderful journey.