I have a bit of news for you and, while I do think I will regret writing this at some point in your teenage future, it’s just something I need to get off my chest: I have absolutely no clue what I’m doing. Specifically, I mean that in regards to parenting, but that very general statement can also be cast on other areas of my life, certainly not excluding taxes or cheesecake-making. Actually, fuck it, I am really just grasping in the dark, desperately looking for something- the catch is that I just don’t know what that something is. The one big takeaway I have gotten from my short time parenting is that the older a person gets, the less they know. Coincidentally, you’ll also notice the people that don’t agree with that statement are those that know the least of all.
If we want to talk specifics, I often find myself asking parents of slightly older children some questions that I am certain I should already know the answer to:
Is she supposed to lose her baby teeth in pre-K or, like, 9th grade?
She just turned three, is she supposed to be able to read?
Should I trust her to wipe her own ass? Or is it normal that I’m still wiping her ass?
This is just a small sampling of the questions I’m constantly bombarding the parents of elementary school-aged children with. I’ve found that if I ask parents of my own parents’ generation, they have conveniently lost this information to make way for more important things in their brains, like what time of year is the cheapest to travel to France, or whether or not their property in Florida will be underwater this decade or next. I sometimes envy their ability to dedicate their brain cells to more selfish endeavors and I’d be lying if I told you that I don’t, in many ways, look forward to that phase of life.
I’m not sure that I’m alone in this whole “what the fuck am I doing?” part of parenting. True, I am the youngest in my family and was relatively unexposed to babies and young children in my childhood. I delivered pizza as a teenager and laughed anytime I was offered a babysitting job, “Me? Watch your children? Are you that desperate?” I would think anytime the proposition arose. I still, to this day, seem to lack that biological instinct to love newborns and infants. It’s nothing personal. This missing piece of my “maternal biology” even applies to my own offspring. Sure, I loved my child deeply the moment she was born (and even before that), but that also doesn’t exclude the stark fact that I spent the first eighteen months of her life desperately wishing for her to get older. Now that she is nearly four years old, I have finally stopped wishing away her early life. We’re finally talking about cool stuff, like the planets and human anatomy and I wouldn’t trade these adorable conversations for more spit-up, sleepless nights…or really even the world. And while I’m absolutely certain there are loads of mothers out there that have no clue what they’re doing (like myself), I also suspect there are others out there that aren’t that into babies, either.
I guess what I’m trying to do here is debunk a few mothering myths all in one fell swoop. When I became (intentionally) pregnant with my daughter, I had no idea if babies were born at 20 pounds or 7. I didn’t know if they started wiping their own asses at four months or four years. All I was sure of was the fact that baboons give birth fairly regularly and seem to figure their shit out. Slowly, I’ve been doing the same. So far, we’re all alive and if I may say so myself, thriving. So don’t wait until you’re “ready” or think you know what you’re doing. That’s one thing that I can certainly promise you is not included in Darwinian theory.
But this second piece of bullshit is the idea that mothers are biologically geared toward losing control of their brain cells the moment they see a newborn baby. Or even this idea that a “good mother” is one that dedicates 100% of their very being to their role as a parent. As I watch my own daughter grow, I quite literally never look at her and wish and hope for her to be a good mother herself one day. There is really just one thing I wish for her: happiness. I know, I know. That’s so cliché. And while I can confidently tell you that my daughter makes me happier than any other thing on earth, I can also tell you that she is only one part of my more complete happiness.
So, Evangeline, if you have a daughter yourself one day, I can promise you that she will light up your life like no other source ever could. But she will also be a constant source of a more selfish inspiration; a reminder to become stronger so that she may feed off your strength. She will provoke you to read, study and learn, so that you may tutor her in many disciplines. She will inspire you to run and hike, so that she will admire your endurance and seek to create the same energy in herself. She will be your everything. But you must remember that if you want to be the same for her, you must always be bettering yourself.
I may not know how many teeth you’re supposed to have or when you should be tying your own shoes, but I do know that my most important task as a mother is to, first and foremost, be really kick-ass at being me.