The Parenting Paradox

Motherhood is a comedy.  And the joke seems always on me.

The latest episode featured the fourth grade end-of-year music performance.

My youngest child is ten. This is her last year of lower school. She attends the school my two older children, my younger sister, and I, all attended.

At times, it feels as though I’ve been imprisoned inside the same white brick building for the past forty years in an endless bad dream. 

How many back to school nights am I expected to attend?  Do teacher conferences at this age really matter?  Exactly how many perfectly-brown-edged chocolate chip cookies must I bake in my role as a good mother?  Can’t we just fastforward through the slow parts of this movie?

So when other parents, also facing “goodbye” to lower school, mentioned how teary they were going to be, I laughed sardonically.  Not me!  I couldn’t wait for the last day, the final music performance.  I’d be cheering.

You know where this is going.

I, however, was clueless.

The morning I walked confidently into the music assembly, I involuntarily recalled my favorite motherhood quote by Dorothy Evslin, which I read years before when my children were still wearing footed pajamas:

“It will be gone before you know it. The fingerprints on the wall appear higher and higher. Then suddenly they disappear.”

I saw my blonde daughter in her pink dress in the back row. My eyes watered, my heart swelled, and there was nothing I could do.  I felt like I’d been driving a race car quite skillfully towards the waving red finish line flag, when suddenly, involuntarily, an unseen hand slammed the clutch into reverse.

How is it fair that in the space of two seconds, I went from wishing away this tedious phase of childhood, to romanticizing it and wanting, quite desperately, to press the rewind button?  How did I travel from glee to tears as I walked through the doorway of that music room?

Parenthood can be downright cruel.  You spend what feels like a lifetime cursing those grimy fingerprints on your beautiful pale yellow walls, the dirty diapers, the wet towels on the bathroom floors, the ketchup stains on your favorite jeans.  The days and nights ruined by vomit and urine-soaked crib sheets, and then by failed tests, mean girl battles and blown curfews.

Then, wrong footed, you want it all back. Once it’s almost over.

In the darkened auditorium, the children sang from the Wizard of Oz (cue sweet little high-pitched preteen voices warbling, “I could wile away the hours, Conferrin’ with the flowers, Consultin’ with the rain”). I started to daydream of my oldest child, the high school sophomore.  He will be driving a car soon.  Heading off to college in three years.  Away from me forever!

And my 13-year-old daughter, the diva.  I hadn’t seen her in two days. She prefers to spend her nights elsewhere.  The moms at her friends’ houses are nicer, she says. Maybe I’ve lost her already!

Motherhood is endless. Motherhood is almost over! Motherhood is a comedy.  Motherhood is a tragedy!  Parenthood is a paradox, making us laugh and cry in a sequence too fast for the average human constitution to absorb.

How could any parenting book possibly capture all this?

Parenthood stinks and it soars, nearly at the same time, ruining us and saving us simultaneously, and we are forever changed.



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