Long, uninterrupted periods of time in which your only meaningful human contact is with miniature persons that sometimes seem like bipolar wind-up toys can do weird things to your brain. As a person who tends to operate on a relatively even emotional keel, rarely deviating too far from a comfortable indifference except, perhaps, when sports are on TV, the kind of intensity that small children throw at you every waking second of every day is, well, rather intense.
Sure, the negative emotion is obviously challenging, but even the unbridled happiness and eagerness is draining. I mean, it’s like Paul Rudd’s character says to Seth Rogen’s character in Knocked Up (I think), I sometimes wish I liked anything as much as my kids like bubbles.
I’m almost four years (FOUR YEARS?!?) into this parenting game, and while I am by no means an expert on parenting, I am an expert on my kids. I know what I can do to make my life easy and I know what I can do to make my life really difficult. But when the days get long and the brain warp sets in, all that knowledge goes out the window.
For example, when we are heading out to the park or wherever and J (almost 4-years-old) insists on putting on his shoes on the front porch instead of in the car, I am fully aware that trying to get my way because I already packed his shoes in the bag is going to cause problems. If I push it, there will be theatrical crying and I will end up annoyed. And ultimately, I will end up carrying him back from the car to the front porch and putting on the shoes there with much harrumphing on my part. There is no winning this game. Yet, much like the Washington Generals or 2015 UCF Knights football team, even though I know I’m going to lose, I still try.
There are at least 27 little pivot points like this that arise every day. Those moments where you can do what you know you need to do to maintain the peace or you can be stubborn and lean into the misery. Insignificant moments where the options are begrudging contentment or waterfalls of tears. I truly recognize this, I really do. And not just after the fact, I realize it in the moment. I will say to myself, “Well, this is pointless and is going to turn into a crap show, but let’s see what happens anyway.”
There are two reasons I’ve come up with to explain my often irrational behavior. First, when you’re parenting small children, you pretty much always feel like you lack control. You can’t do anything on your own schedule. You can’t just run out to a restaurant and grab food if you get hungry. Every activity is a production. So, even though you know you can’t have control, you try to grab it whenever it appears to be in your grasp. Or, even when it’s not even close to your grasp. Those shoes aren’t going on in the car no matter how much you want them to.
Second, and this one is probably more personal to me, I think I tend to seek out discord. If things are going too well, I get a little uneasy. I mean, there is no other way to explain why I sometimes still read the comments on internet articles or search Twitter for things that I know will just send me into a spiral of nihilism and hatred of everything. Just this week, for example, I was reading an article about this viral video of a little girl catching a fish with her Barbie fishing pole and I scrolled down to the comments. My favorite comment, from a person with some amalgamation of an American flag, Confederate flag, assault rifle, and cross as their avatar: “Well, this would never have happened if (1) her parents were democrats or (2) she had two moms.” Seriously. And then I searched Twitter for Michelle Obama on Doc McStuffins (the FLOTUS was on Doc McStuffins last week) because I was like, this is going to be good, and found this gem that someone tweeted at Ben Carson (naturally): “Now my 4-year-old daughter is under attack! Michelle Obama is on Doc McStuffins!” Seriously. Yep, sometimes I just need to hate Earth.
Anyway, I’m going to try to do better. I will try my best not to fall down those rabbit holes, parenting or virtual, so often. At least I’m aware of the issue and its root causes. And knowing is half the battle, right? I remember hearing that somewhere. Too bad it’s the really easy half.