Where we live, Spring has (for the most part) sprung. For us, that means at least twice daily trips to the sweet little park conveniently located directly across the street. Little legs moving quickly, plus climbing and fresh air, means tuckered out kiddos who sometimes fall asleep smelling like sweat and grass before I can get them dunked in the tub, a reality with which I only feign irritation.
Even only a few weeks into the season, I have already spotted the fresh crop of neighborhood babies born during the long, and dark season of inside play. I recognize many of the children, though some have lost their chubber cheeks; others more outgoing (or shy) since last we gathered in our common play spot. One small boy in particular impresses me with how independent he’s grown. I remember him always clinging to his grandmother’s legs. It makes me wonder in what ways my own children have matured and evolved, so close to me during the months inside that I’ve yet to take appropriate stock.
Looking at my children, so free in their play, and so uninhibited with their love, and curiosity, I felt myself swell with joy. A look must have crossed my face, because another child’s grandmother said, “Isn’t it great?,” to which I nodded and answered, “the best!”
We began to chit-chat, and it led to me talking about my writing. She was such a good listener, and so interested, that I began to feel a bit self-conscious for talking so much, so I put a button on the conversation by saying, “I’ve never been more proud of anything I’ve done”. I was just about to ask her more about herself, when she said, “Aside from you children”. It wasn’t a question. A reminder, perhaps? It took me back enough that I said, “Sorry, I didn’t catch what you said,” because I needed more time to figure out what look to put on my face. She said, “Oh, I just said ‘other than your kids.'” We navigated out of that line of conversation, and soon it was time to go home for lunch, so we exchanged goodbyes.
I really wasn’t able to identify why, but for some reason, I found her comment quite off-putting. I considered that perhaps it was the confidence with which she corrected me, or that maybe it was just a touch too familiar for park chat…Eventually, I chalked it up to lack of sleep, i.e., did what i always do, and assumed it was me.
Later that night, as I lay with a 23 pound toddler on my chest, it dawned on me: I don’t take pride in my children. Even seeing those words makes me cringe, but the truth remains; I don’t take pride in my children, because I don’t view them as an accomplishment.
While I know that technically I made them with my genetic material, it feels a strange thing to take credit for. I’ve joked with my sister that perhaps I’d feel differently if upon discovering I was pregnant, I’d been handed a schedule, and had to really focus on that day’s tasks. Something tells me we’d have an awful lot of people walking around with only one eyebrow, or missing hands if that was how it worked. It would be a flipping miracle if, by the time you got to a third child you managed to remember his head! But, as it is, I don’t feel particularly extraordinary in my ability to procreate. It didn’t take skill. It didn’t take ambition. In the case of my first born, it took Jack Daniels. And the reality is that their conceptions were the luck of the draw, just the same as someone who has trouble conceiving; neither of us did anything to end up with the fertility straws we drew. It feels odd to me to take pride in them, because I don’t feel like I did much to contribute to their existence.
It feels foreign to me to consider their intelligence, or kindness a personal accomplishment when I don’t consider their tempers, or sporadic greediness a failure. It doesn’t give me a sense of personal triumph when Benjamin thirsts for knowledge about dinosaurs, carefully using their proper scientific names, and rattling off their stats like he’s talking about the NBA. I don’t see why it would, when It doesn’t make me question my parenting when Este throws her food on the ground, or raises holy hell in a restaurant. If I am responsible for the positives, so am I for the negatives. Perhaps that’s a burden my fragile ego can’t bear.
I am exceedingly proud OF my children. Every day I marvel at the people they are, and look at them with the same dreamy smiles I see plastered to the faces of parents everywhere. I can’t wait to see what they choose for themselves, and hope they know that I will try to support, and will certainly always love them, even if I would choose differently for them. My sister says that her daughters are on this planet with their own agendas. I like that very much. As someone who often deflates like a flan under the crushing weight of other people’s expectations, I dream for my children that they have the strength, courage, and confidence to know what they want, and pursue it even when others are disappointed. Even when the “others” include me.
I have accomplished some things in my life, and I take pride in them. But my children, while the honor is all mine for the short while I am entrusted with their every need, don’t belong to me; they belong only to themselves. Their accomplishments are their own. The first time I am truly challenged to confront that fact, and am able to successfully acknowledge their independent personhood, is the day I’ll know that I have accomplished what I’ve set out to do as a mother. In the meantime, I’ll love them so much my eyes pop out of my head, but my children aren’t my greatest accomplishment. I’d like to think that my greatest accomplishment, is yet to come.
Love. Balance. Health. Happiness.
To each of you, everyday.