On regular to bad days, life at home with small children is drudgery. It is boring, routine, hard work. It is not the parenting that is hard, though. It’s just the trying to do anything else other than parenting that makes it hard. Whether that “anything else” is getting a job, going to the bathroom, loading the dishwasher, going out for a walk, cooking noodles, sweeping the floor, talking to your partner. (I guess this epiphany belongs in the Reader’s Digest Magazine file, under “Parenting would be a breeze – if it weren’t for the kids!”) Remove all of that other, competing stuff, and you have the nugget; parenthood. Talking to your kids, playing with your kids, helping your kids play with each other. Washing them, reading them stories, putting them to bed.
You can only “let the housework go” so far, right.
So: the stress of parenting while also doing other things is what makes parenthood seem hard.
And: never getting to pee by yourself ever makes you want to be somewhere else sometimes, instead of playing with blocks, and that is what makes it boring.
Today, though, is not one of those days.
There are chickadees outside my living room window.. Last winter we made a bird feeder and hung it right there on that branch and now there are four chickadees sitting on the very branch, looking in the window at me. Waiting. They remember a year ago, obviously. Birds, with bird brains, reminded me of something I had forgotten. Why are those birds – oh right!
I think I am long past remembering things the way I used to. For whatever reason my brain is just not wired the same way and the details that used to come easily, at the snap of my fingers, are now muddy sticks at the bottom of a deep pond. I grab at them, shake them free of the mud, slugs, cigarette butts but no, they are never what I expect them to be.
And if I cannot count on my memory, if I do need the triggers of photographs or words to remind me, then what I will remember in 10 or 20 years is what was notable. Not what was ordinary.
And so, if I will not remember the ordinary, if I will never capture that ordinary feeling again, I ought to at least enjoy it while it is happening. While there is ordinary to enjoy.
At last count, I have four relatives whose mechanisms are slowly ticking to a halt. Some of them more slowly than others. I have already lost one uncle and one uncle-in-law this year. SA’s grandmother is sick in hospital. Everything seems to fall apart at once. One morning I wake up and there is sadness all around. Suddenly I notice that yesterday I was quite happy, quite oblivious.
“When will I die?” Trombone asks me at lunch.
“I don’t know,” I say.
“Maybe in a hundred years!” he says. That is about the biggest number he can think of.
“How do you know when you’re going to die?”
“Usually you don’t. But healthy little boys don’t die.”
This lie sits quite comfortably on my tongue. It is my own version of “…in a hundred years!” How fantastic, either end of the spectrum. There are no childhood tragedies and we will all live until the biggest number we can think of. We will live as long as we can imagine living.
You know how some parents say, when they hear of a tragedy involving children, that they hug their own children a little closer. The loss of any child emphasizes the presence of one’s own child, the fragility, the potential for harm. I do not generally feel that way. But something about my family disintegrating, one uncle at a time, is making me look at my kids differently. Making me look at my days, at my parenting. Asking myself: What if this was the last thing you did before you left this earth. What if this drawing guitars / building with blocks / dancing around to Surfin’ Bird was your final act as a parent, as a person. Would you enjoy it then?
“Back!” says Fresco as I walk past something that interests him. “BACK BACK BACK!” He is at that stage where he knows enough words to communicate but not enough words to ask why I don’t cooperate with his well-articulated requests.
“We can’t go back,” I say. I keep walking.
He cries. Stomps his feet. Sees another thing that interests him.
What can I do? With three sick uncles flung in three corners of the world; with a world that may not be inhabitable when my kids want to have their own kids; with the knowledge that in two years I will probably be pining for their little hands clawing at me every time I sit down. What can I do? I can’t stop time, can’t stop an illness progressing. I can’t go back in time and change history. I can’t sink into a depression and have the rest of my life be empty, mournful.
All I can do, to honour those for whom time is running out, is celebrate this moment, this life, this time. This ordinary time.