Thursday, March 25, 2010

tiny paper bird

When I was pregnant, my chiropractor, who ended up having a significant and very positive impact on my pregnancy and birth experience, told me that she would love to give birth again, but she wasn't so sure about raising another child. At the time, standing on the precipice of the greatest unknown any woman will ever face, I could not understand what she was saying. In almost every form - literature, film, television, stories told by strangers in grocery stores - birth is depicted as the most difficult, painful, unpleasant, frightening experience one can go through. Not having experienced childbirth or child rearing yet, I could not imagine that raising a child could be more difficult than giving birth to one.

My own childbirth experience, it turns out, was actually quite beautiful. That is not to say that it wasn't difficult, painful, at times unpleasant, or frightening, because it was all of these things. But it was also the most magical, powerful, earth-shattering, life-changing thing I have ever been privileged to experience. I remember absolutely everything about that day, and I hope I never, ever forget it. And I can say in complete honesty that I look forward to doing it again someday.

Amazing experiences aside, raising a child is, at least from where I sit now, far more difficult than giving birth. Even on the most perfect of days, it is trying, tiring, exasperating. It's also lovely and beautiful - but as often as it is pleasant it is unpleasant. Yesterday was just such a day. It was a sunny, beautiful day. We had a sweet walk around the block with the dogs, admiring the daffodils, staring up at the weeping cherries on Blue Ridge that will soon be impossibly beautiful in their soft pink blooms. We played in the rock pile with the sand toys, sun shining on our backs.

We came inside and Dora watched the Muppets while I made dinner. The food took longer than I had hoped, and we had already gotten a late start. We were both growing hungry and tired. Bedtime got pushed back later than it should. We had to skip her bath due to the late hour. The night ended with a time-out before bed, Dora in the entrance-way crying and me in the kitchen, sipping a glass of wine and watching the timer on the microwave count down. As we sat in her room for our last goodnight snuggle, I found myself overcome with grief, missing my mom as I often do when things aren't going so well.

Sometimes the hardest thing about being a parent is admitting you need help, or the days that come when you know you need to ask for it. Sometimes the hardest thing about being a parent is discovering the things you want for your child but don't or can't have - financial security, health, a clean house, a perfect marriage, a job you can explain to a toddler, a grandma Carol.

I've been blessed by friends and family that have helped me in so many ways - with food, or childcare, or simple understanding. There is nothing quite so comforting as being able to tell a friend what a terrible night you had with your kid, and hearing not only that they think that's ok, but that they did, too. Even strangers sometimes give us what we need - the sympathetic mom at the grocery store, the man at the car wash helping me load the car seat back into the car, the waitress at the sushi restaurant who loves Dora, who brings her treats and tiny paper origami birds.

That's the thing about parenting - and birth - that have surprised me the most. It's like it gives you a new set of eyes to see the world through - eyes that can see so much more detail, both the good and the bad. You see the hurdles and the challenges and the bedtimes punctuated with time-outs with greater clarity. You see the tragedies of the world in a new light, as they impact other people's children and you imagine how your heart would break if it was your child being impacted (or perhaps it IS your child). But you see the beauty, too - the support of friends and family, the value in admitting you need help, the privilege of helping someone else in turn, the beauty of a tiny scrap of paper folded with skilled hands. If nothing else, becoming a parent has given me a new perspective, one that I know I am blessed to have, even on the most difficult of days.

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