An apology to my friends with babies and small children

Dear friends,
So many of you have had babies lately. Or posted adorable photos of your young children on Facebook. I’m sorry I haven’t joined the gushing. It’s not that I don’t care. Granted, I’ve never been much of a baby person – I’m a fan of self-sufficiency and babies have so little of that – but mostly my reluctance to add to the “Oh my gosh, SO CUTE!!!” commentary stems from the fact that I’m having a hell of a time with my teenage/adult children. When I see those wee babes or kids still young enough to find joy in playing with stuffed animals or T-ball or glittery facepaint, well, my heart just breaks that much more.

I remember, you see, the hopes, dreams and optimism I felt back then. When, despite all the challenges of getting through the days with three children under the age of 10, one sweet moment – a huge grin, a sticky hug, the satisfaction of having my children gathered round while I read, how completely engaged they’d be in listening – oh, in those moments, it was all clearly worthwhile. They glowed with darlingness, so bright, so cheerful, so clearly destined for happiness. I was sure all the years of sacrifice would pay off in their successes. I knew that despite the hard times – mom and dad fighting, money always tight, flared tempers and constant crises – that the fact that I loved them would carry us through. I thought with my love and experience wrapped around them, they’d be cushioned from too much hurt, from making bad decisions that would bring them more pain.

I was so fucking wrong. Learning you can’t protect your kids is the first horrible lesson you learn as a parent. Usually about the time you’re standing in the emergency room or when your kid has come home in tears from being teased by some rotten little asshole child in preschool. Realizing you’re the one who has screwed them up is the next. Because they come into this world nearly perfect. At least mine did. I thought all I had to do was not mess them up too much. But right now, feels like all hard times and no pay off. Like maybe I wasn’t nearly a good enough mother. Like obviously I haven’t been a good enough mother because if I was, my oldest would be thriving and my youngest wouldn’t be worrying me to tears and my middle kid wouldn’t be sick of being the only one who’s managed to keep it together.

And all this hurts in that way that I want to curl up on the floor and not move. But I can’t because I have this whole huge life in addition to my kids, the one in which I’m actually doing pretty well, and I need to keep that going because that’s all I have left to offer my family in hopes of moving forward. Whatever “moving forward” means. Mostly I think right now it means “surviving” with a little bit of “please let this be as hard as it gets.”

Sounds whiny, doesn’t it? You should be used to whininess, what with the little kids and all. That’s one advantage of them being bigger now. They don’t whine – although they may call you an asshole to your face.

So anyway, when I look at your pictures, hear your excitement, it only drives home how much I’ve lost. My failure to muster up enthusiasm is selfish, I know. I’m really, really sorry about that. I hope you can forgive me. They are really sweet.
Love,
Jennifer

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8 thoughts on “An apology to my friends with babies and small children”

  1. It comes full circle, when they come back, as adults with kids of their own, to apologize and thank you.

  2. You said what I’ve been thinking for the last 7 years. Then Greg said what I’ve just begun to see happening around me. I hope with yours and with mine that it truly is just a normal phase they are going through.

  3. Huge sympathy. Can’t say I’m not half-crazed with worry heading into the teen years, knowing full well what complete nightmares both our sweet kids’ parents were as teenagers.

    I am not qualified to offer you advice, but if I were I would encourage you to keep paddling… and breathing.

  4. I second what Greg and Kym, and you (!), said. Heading into the mid-teens with one and tweens with the other, I’m forcibly reminded of my own growing pains and independence so long ago. I only hope we all make it through to “the other side”.

  5. Jenn, even when you’re being stone cold grim, you manage to make me laugh. Of course I think the sign of a good mother is the stark recognition that you’ve fucked up. It’s all about the love, in the end. And who’s to say that someone’s thriving or not? It might just not be time for the flowering yet. Everyone’s got their own timeline. For example, they always called me a late bloomer and look at me…(now THAT’S depressing!)

  6. I have no experience raising teenagers or any kids for that matter, except that I was one that drove my parents crazy with worry by hanging out with dodgy friends and getting into trouble. Anyways we all have to make our own mistakes, learn our own lessons etc, you cant do that for them.

    However, seeing your clan out in the water and egging each other on into fun sunday morning surf makes me think you are being a little too hard on yourself…. even if it will be years before they realize how special that it is.

  7. You’re all sweet. Thank you. Always so helpful to transform the thoughts in my head into words on a page. I’m more optimistic than I sound, I’m sure. The kind words are much appreciated.

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