Thursday, July 08, 2010

All Joy and No Fun

"All Joy and No Fun" is the title of a recent article on New York magazine's website, which is subtitled, "Why Parents Hate Parenting."

I really enjoyed the article. It put into words a vague feeling that I've been having lately about parenting—about life in general, in a lot of ways.

When I was living in England, it was a really tough transition from being at my safe, familiar college campus surrounded by friends, or at home with my family. The first two months, in particular, were absolutely miserable. I and the other American volunteer with me at our placement were so unhappy; the place we were volunteering was not being run well, so no matter how hard we tried, we would never make any headway. Added to that, our 3rd housemate was a passive-aggressive psycho. It was not a good place.

BUT, we talked to the program director and told her either we needed to be placed somewhere else, or we would quit the program. That's when I got sent to Liverpool, and my friend got sent to Glasgow. (The crazy roommate quit the program.) And when I got to Liverpool, it was immediately apparent that this was a much better situation. I was working in a school that was well-run. My position and duties were very clear. And my new housemates all got along, which is essential when you have one budget for food and household expenses.

And yet, I was still missing home like crazy. Even though I wasn't totally miserable anymore, I still found myself counting off the days until I could see a familiar face. This was supposed to be an amazing, life-changing experience, and all I could think about was how much I wanted to be back home. I'd picture myself at my parents' house, lying on the couch and reading a book on a warm summer afternoon. It seemed like heaven. My new, exciting reality had nothing on the comforts of home.

And yet, at the same time, I knew that I was emotionally sabotaging myself. I could clearly see, from the beginning, how it was all going to play out. For the first few months, I was going to be incredibly homesick and completely focused on what I was missing. Then I would start getting to know people better, settle into a routine; slowly all the routine tasks of life would start actually feeling more routine, and less daunting. I would start thinking that maybe this wasn't such a terrible idea after all. I would realize that I was thinking about home less, and enjoying my days more.

Once there was only a short time left in my stay, I would really start to appreciate it. When I had only a few weeks left at the school, or one last volunteer retreat .... that's when I would become really sad about how quickly the year had passed. And I would regret all the time at the beginning that I wasted, pining for home instead of fully engaging in this unique opportunity.

I knew this, from the beginning. And it did all come to pass. But I couldn't rush things along. I couldn't get myself out of my homesickness funk any earlier. It drove me crazy that I was making myself miserable, but it couldn't be stopped.

And that's what (FINALLY) brings me back around to my thoughts on parenting, and this article. I've been thinking a lot about how much I'm going to miss Eleanor's toddler days. I'll look back at these pictures, and wonder how she was ever that small. What did she do? What did she say? How did it feel when she snuggled into my arms? Instead of being part of the fabric of my daily life, these things will be a distant memory.

Knowing this, knowing how toddlerhood is so fleeting, I feel like I should be able to use that knowledge to stop myself from getting frustrated all the time. Constantly wanting more time to myself: to read, or to finish that one last task, or just to sit. Every day I tell myself to be more patient. To appreciate just being with her, at this incredibly special time in her life. To focus on forging our bond, and helping her learn about her world. To be in the moment and see it as a gift.

And yet .... I can't do it. I spend the majority of my time yearning for more time, for autonomy and freedom and EASY. Just to not have to be thinking and doing all day long.

Do I accept this as inevitable? Spend my time now saying, "Hold on! Just let me finish this first and I'll be right there!," knowing full well that in 5 years, or 10 years, or 30 years, I will be regretting all of these precious, fleeting moments slip right past me.

Is there another way to do it, and not lose your mind?


Amy said...

Best. Little L. Photo. Ever. So cute! Love the shades ... and the expression on her face cracks me up! Just what I needed after a stressful day @ the nun shack. (It's such a zoo over there, you have no idea.) So, thanks for that.

Jonathan said...

I know what you mean about them changing so rapidly... our youngest has gone from almost no words to non stop chatter - from 6 in the morning until she collapses into bed at 7:30 in the evening.

We roll our eyes as she approaches, full of questions, and "why", but we will miss that too - when she grows and stops the non-stop barrage.

Amy said...

I just realized that photo reminds me of the one that illustrates "Is It Really That Hard?"

Amy said...

Maybe it's just the oversized glasses ... who knows.

M. Lubbers said...

Amy: Aren't the sunglasses the best? It's funny because.... wait, never mind. I'm going to make that story into a post of its own.

But I see the connection with the ridiculous photo of me for "Is It Really That Hard?" posts. Poor girl!

Jonathan: Every time I tell my mother-in-law a funny Eleanor story, she says, "Are you writing this down?" She understands very well how quickly this goes away, and the kids become adults!