Sunday, May 29, 2011

The end of a chapter

Nine months seemed like such a long time when Emily was first born. Emily has grown from a high-needs newborn to a little less high-needs baby. She's her own person now, and ready to take on the world - at least her small world. When I saw her this morning, for the first time on all fours and springing forward, about to crawl, I pictured a baby bird being booted out of the nest for the first time. Except with Emily, we don't have to push. She's finally sick of being in one place and wants to move around now.

Tomorrow I head back to work.  A number of people have asked me how I feel about that. Am I nervous, stressed, scared? No, not really. But I am embarrassed and frustrated that someone will have to sign me into the building tomorrow because I can't find my damn pass. I know, a little thing. But it's not the way one wants to start back.

Work is work, just one aspect of life, albeit an important and necessary aspect.  I'm actually looking forward to the change, the challenge, the variety, the stimulation and, most of all, the different relationships I have at the office. But I like to think that spending all of this time with my kids has given me more perspective on where work fits in the hierarchy of responsibilities and obligations. I must not get carried away with the usual dramas and crises at work to the point where I'm missing out on my kids' lives.

It's not heroic to choose work over family - especially young children. I'm painfully aware that every minute, every second of their lives that I miss is gone for good. But of course I don't want to be there for every second. People that tell you they loved every minute of their children growing up are lying, deluding themselves, or have a history of heavy Prozac use.

Life is a balance, and it's not healthy for a person to sacrifice any one aspect of his or her life completely for any other aspect. It can only lead to longing and regret down the road. I'm finding that a healthy attitude to take is one that appreciates that there is a time and a place for both family and personal fulfillment. And each stage in one's life allows for more or less of one or the other. But the one should never be entirely sacrificed for the other. That's easier said then done, of course. I'm finding that it's been an awfully long time since I've picked up a guitar - something I used to play every day. And I don't anticipate that the coming days and weeks will afford me any more time for music. But I am making time for this blog and, as a result, for self-reflection and reflection on my family and relationships.

When I started this blog, my main goal, along with giving myself the pleasure of writing, was to try to speak some truths about childrearing. I didn't want to add to the myths, because lord knows there are plenty of them out there. I also didn't want to whine about every little day-to-day struggle and triviality. I did want to share the difficulties, the fears, the pleasures, the rewards, and the humour that comes with raising a young family, and I hope that I've struck a reasonable balance.

What frustrated me the most with our introduction to raising children was all of the mythology and assumed wisdom that permeates the experience for young mothers and fathers. The words like, "I loved every minute of being a mother," or "Enjoy it. They grow up so quickly."  These words are all well-intentioned, but not very useful. Memory has a way of filtering out what we don't want to remember and emphasizing everything we loved about an experience. It's why we say, "you'll laugh about this one day." And it's true, we will. But it takes time. In the meantime, the last thing a new parent wants to hear is how magical parenting is supposed to be, and how wonderful it was for everybody else who has already gone through it. It makes new parents, especially new mothers because they start out from a Peter Pan world of unreasonable expectations about the joys of motherhood, to feel guilty that they aren't getting everything they're supposed to out of their new roles. A recent study, and unfortunately I can't quote it here, but I'll see if I can dig it up, found that new parents are the exact opposite of happy and dreamy. They're stressed, exhausted, fighting with each other, and continuously trying to convince themselves and everyone around them that parenting is magical - and of course they would, it's not like they can change their minds. They might as well talk themselves into liking it.

Reward, fulfillment, meaning, and richness are not necessarily synonymous with ideas such as happiness and comfort. I'm happy when I'm eating ice cream, watching a good movie, enjoying a nice beer or, especially, taking a walk in a beautiful garden or forest. But the thing about happiness is that it's always just momentary. Nothing you can do in life will "make you happy," although it can make you comfortable. Happiness as an end-goal is a rather silly idea when novelty more than anything else provides those surges of happiness with which we're all familiar.  I'm reminded of a line from one of my favourite Shaw plays. "I no longer desire happiness: life is nobler than that."

We shouldn't be searching for happiness, but for knowledge, understanding, and connection with those around us. Curiosity, respect and empathy is what should drive us. What better reason is there for having children? We get to learn about them, and at the same time about ourselves. And let's not forget how much we, as parents, come to appreciate our own parents' experience of raising children.

My parental leave is coming to an end but not, thankfully, fatherhood. I have a lot left to learn - and to share, for those who care to keep reading.


  1. Well said!! Good luck tomorrow...I'm going back to work in the morning as well...and you won't be the only one that has to be let into the building.

  2. Hey Heather! Good luck to you. We might both be a bit rusty at first. I hope that your maternity leave went well and that you and family are doing well.

  3. I'm sorry I'm just getting to read your post now, I hope your first day back went better than expected and that Julie didn't miss you too much (or the girls!)

    I enjoy reading your insight and appreciate your honesty about being home with your kids, makes me feel a bit more sane!

    What wonderful memories you must have of the past 9 months.


  4. Thanks Tanya. I'm happy to hear that my musings have resonance for people. Sometimes I worry that I'm just rambling on about things of little interest to anyone but myself and family... I appreciate getting the feedback.

  5. I love reading your ramblings, sounds a lot like mine!!!! How is the transition of being back at your 'other' work going?