This weekend we transitioned our daughter out of her crib and into a toddler bed. Ok, so I realize it’s not the most monumental act, and yet, it felt like the end of era. My baby girl is growing up. In less than a month she’ll be three years old. It is true- what every parent with a grown child says- it goes by so fast, too fast. I feel like I want to hold onto her perfect, unscathed body and beg it to slow down. I want to savor her childhood a bit longer (well, most days anyhow).
With her birthday rounding the corner it also provides a marker to reflect on where I’m at as a parent. A friend told me yesterday that her mother-in-law (who is a psychologist) told her that by most accounts people find that it takes about three years to find your legs as a parent. That sounds about right to me. Even though I feel more competent as a parent with each passing day (and also simultaneously acutely aware that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing in many moments), I also am realizing that who I thought I would be as a parent only slightly matches who I actually am. It’s not as bad as it sounds. What I mean is that I really couldn’t have seen it coming- how much being a parent would alter my life and identity.
Take this example: I have a very clear memory of being out with a good friend just weeks before our daughter was born. We were watching live music at a local performance venue and sitting in a low futon sofa with beers cradled in our hands when an acquaintance-friend said to me, “you know once you’re a parent you’re NEVER going out, right? Every parent I know never goes out any more.” I was offended and unnerved by her exaggerated, bold statement. For God’s sake, we were having a child, something my spouse and I chose to do and worked hard to make happen as a queer couple, it was not a death sentence. And yet months later I begrudgingly admitted to myself that I had changed in that regard- I wasn’t going out very often anymore. I suddenly understood why most parents I know who are on Facebook post beaming status updates every time they go out on a date with their partner. It is downright news worthy in their parental world. HOLD THE PHONE- we had an actual romantic dinner together (ok, maybe not altogether romantic, but it was just us anyway) complete with cocktails (YES PEOPLE, COCKTAILS!) and dessert and we stayed out until 9 pm! NINE PM!
Yes, we go out here and there, but many more nights we don’t because we are either: a) exhausted, b) don’t have child care, c) don’t have money to go out because much of our spending money we had is suddenly being eaten alive by a massive daycare bill or d) frankly, the idea of having to get it together to leave the house is far less appealing than cozying up to our Netflix account. And yet here’s the weird kicker that might seem counter to our behavior: I bet most parents, especially in those early years, are longing for connection with others. My spouse, daughter and I made it out one night for a family style dinner and then an early evening show featuring a friend from out of town who was performing music. It was so great to run into old friends I hadn’t seen much in the past few years, but I also felt like I had nothing to say. Come again? You want to connect with people but you can’t hold a conversation? Ok, sometimes I can, but whether it’s lack of sleep, a slight deficit in intellectual functioning since having a kid, or that my life has just become much more simplistic (and also incredibly sweet, I’m being full-frontal here)… whatever the case, I find it much harder these days to respond to the question, “So what have you been up to?” Somehow I imagine I’m not alone in this.
If one’s personal identity revolves around one’s day-to-day actions and what you’ve been “up to” then I’m slightly screwed. My “up to” being: rise, get me and my daughter out of the house as harmoniously as possible, go to work (thankfully I have a fulfilling job doing meaningful work I love most days), come home, have dinner with my dear family, clean up/make lunches/check email, maybe write or go out with a friend if I’m lucky. I relish in the thought of the summer time with the longer days it brings. I also am incredibly fortunate to have a job in which I have the month of July off and can do things that feed me like garden, be outdoors, write more regularly, and connect with both my family and those lovely friends I mentioned. But maybe identity is not just about one’s actions… I’ve never really bought that anyhow. I mostly despise that standard party introductory question of “what do you do?” that seems to distill our entire essence to one’s paid work in the world. Our identities and experiences are about so much more than that: our histories, our roles, our backgrounds, our cultures, our inner workings, and our spirit… I feel like I’m barely beginning to understand those parts of myself in relation to how they’ve been impacted by parenthood. What is it about parenthood that shapes you so that you are both who you’ve always been and somehow so incredibly different? I was so resistant to admit it, but I have changed, and also I’m still me.
I still remain unnerved by that comment about parents never going out. It illustrates a sharp lack of understanding and fierce judgment of many parent’s experiences and realities, even if it does partly ring true. I imagine that it comes from a deeper place of sadness about things shifting for this person in terms of her connection to her parent-friends. And yet maybe the way to bridge any gaps that might be happening between friends who have kids and childless friends is to ask instead how people are really doing… to get to know them again, even if that is just hearing about seemingly monotonous, everyday tasks that make up their world for the time being.
Charlotte Capogna-Amias started writing in high school and produced two DIY zines in which she had a fan base of fellow punks around the country who were also trying to make meaning of their lives through stories, rants and art. These days Charlotte studies in the Amherst Writers & Artists method and her writing on parenthood has appeared in Hip Mama magazine and the forthcoming web publication of This Bridge Called My Baby. Charlotte is the co-founder and facilitator of the Queer Non-Gestational Parents Group- a support group based in western Massachusetts. Charlotte has a Masters in Social Justice Education and works for a university support program for students who are low-income, first generation college students or have a disability. Charlotte lives in western Massachusetts with her spouse and energetic two-year-old daughter. In her spare time (that was funny), Charlotte is working with her friend and fellow blogster, Betsy Fife Archer, on a guidebook about becoming a queer, non-gestational parent. She and Betsy blog at turkeybasterandabottleofwine.wordpress.com