So consumed am I with this seemingly boundless duty of caring for children that rarely do I consider what I’m doing it for. Surely my desire to have kids didn’t come from some longing to bring into the world some poor babe who will spend its first 18 years suckling from the familial teat, exhausting my emotional and financial resources in addition to my patience as it clambers onward paving a way for itself upon the once-serene landscape that once was my life.
Yes, becoming a parent is a little like scribbling out the combination of the safety deposit box of your existence, then stuffing the crumpled piece of paper into a thief’s sweaty palm. Everything you once had, everything you once knew, everything that once defined you as a person, now belongs to someone else. And that someone now needs you to wipe their ass.
I apologize for bursting anyone’s bubble there. And rest assured, in some other column I will wax sentimental about all of the sparkling wonderfulness carried forth on the gallant wings of parenthood.
But this flight gets turbulent at times, and so focused we become on riding out the coming bumps, that we don’t even consider why we do it (besides, of course, the undying all-consuming love we have for those suckling babes… and the deep understanding that once you sign up for the ride, there’s no getting off.)
I spend so much energy caring for my children these days that rarely do I stop to recognize that someday they could be caring for me.
Isn’t that assumption, in some deeply seated, evolutionary sense, the reason we feel compelled to have kids in the first place? So that when we’re no longer able to gather our own berries or hunt for our own mastodons, and a neighboring tribe threatens to take control of our cave, that there will be someone to nourish and protect us? Wipe our asses, if need be?
“God looks out for families,” my grandmother says, “because families look out for each other.”
I visited my dad in rehab last weekend, and for much of the allotted three-hour visit I wanted to scream. “Why are you making me do this?” I wanted to ask him. Why do I have to leave my kids, take time off work, drive myself seven hours one-way to support you, when you’re the one who was supposed to be supporting me all this time? I wanted to scream across the grey metal table at him.
I realize it is soooo not P.C. to scream at an alcoholic in rehab.
I also realize it wasn’t my father who was making me do all those things, and that lay at the core of the frustrated screech caught deep in my throat. Being both a parent and a child, I instinctually understand the cost of commitment. When you have a child, you give up your life for them (there are more politically correct ways to say that, too… about how parenthood makes you “humble” and parenthood gives you “perspective”… but I’m feeling decidedly over the niceties right now). And when you are a child who is also a parent, grown up as you may be, there exists some understanding of the toll your birth took on the two people who put you here. Of the ways in which you stole their innermost treasures and made them your own. Even if your parent didn’t do a bang-up job at parenting, you owe them, at the very least, the acknowledgement of that.
“He is our son, and he is your father,” my grandmother says to me. “So we’re not going to give up on him. We can’t.”
So as twisted as it may seem, I take some comfort in the realization that my compensation for putting so much energy into caring for my kids may someday manifest itself as my kids feeling this inescapable commitment to care for me. As children, we all share some obligation to wipe the proverbial asses of the people who wiped ours.
For my daughters’ sake, however, I’m going to do my best to keep my ass as clean as possible.