My mom is one of the fairest people I know. Kind of to the point where I’m all, "Oh my God, mom, just let me do my hating and then we can talk about walking in someone else's shoes." But, seriously, she's a pro at pointing out gray areas and reasons for ignoring absolutes. From the moment we were young, what she's asked of me and my siblings is to look beyond the situation that's at hand. One of her favorite things to say is, "You never know what you think you know."
And, my goodness, is that true.
During some of my deepest, darkest days of postpartum depression, I would find myself standing in the midst of my daughter's music class teetering somewhere between a nervous breakdown and surviving. I knew the words to all of the songs. I delighted in seeing her sweet face. And I felt like I was spiraling.
No one would have known.
Absolutes. They will always lead us to guilt and disappointment, whether we are learning how to parent –– which is every damn day –– or tackling a fitness goal. At the height of my eating disorder, it was absolutes that led me down a path of illness. There was no wiggle room for extra calories or skipping a day of exercise. I was 100 percent committed, resolute that I would not fail. The misstep, of course, was waiting just around the corner.
When you become a parent, well meaning people say things like, "Enjoy every minute." There really is no harm meant by their words, and for the most part we smile and move on with our days. Because our kids really are pretty flipping cool, right?
Then we have one of those days. You know what I'm talking about, right? The one where you are that parent in aisle 13 at Target saying, "OK, well, I'm leaving so see you later," while your asshole kid holds steadfast by the cleaning products, not caring in the least that you are threatening to walk away. You approach her and she lets out a shrill scream with a pitch that says injury, but really all you did was reach for her hand. So you pick her up and smile at the wide eyes of passersby as she thrashes and yells, big fat tears rolling down her cheeks. You, of course, finish your trip anyway because, damn it, you need paper towels and there is no way in hell you are leaving without them. You make it to the car and start thinking about bedtime.
But when they do fall asleep and you shut their door behind you, that's when you hear it, "Enjoy every minute." It's like a punch to the gut. God, I'm a monster. How could I look forward to her falling asleep? Remember how long I hoped for those two pink lines on a pregnancy test? What's wrong with me? I'm a terrible parent.
On days like these, it's the broken record of parental guilt that seemingly plays on repeat.
But this is where we are going to circle back to my mom. I urge you –– and this is a reminder for me too –– to ignore the absolutes of parenting. Please don’t expect to enjoy every moment. You will invariably be let down. I promise there is enough parental guilt to go around. Let us not provide resources, right?
I was speaking with my sister about this notion last week when she said, "It's like run the mile you're in, right?" Growing up in a family of runners means a lot of analogies between the sport and life, so it didn't surprise me when this came out of my sister's mouth. But I was still all, "YEEEES" on the other end of the phone. The idea behind it, of course, is that you don't look back or forward when your feet are striking the pavement. You run the mile you're in. You run those 1.6 kilometers and you see what comes up. You might hate it. You might love it more than you ever thought possible. You might learn something. It might make that one hard mile up ahead feel easier when it hits. You know, that one in aisle 13.
If you run the mile you're in, then you might be coming off of a really difficult one where you feel frazzled about work and overwhelmed about what still lies ahead. But when your daughter walks up to you and says, "Mommy, you have to dance," you'll fall into that next mile with your whole heart. You'll say, "Of course, baby" and scoop her up, and the two of you will sway side to side for five whole minutes. You'll breathe in her sweet smell and feel her tiny arms wrapped around your neck, and it will be enough to see you through the harder miles that are inevitably ahead.
Don't you dare set out to enjoy all of the minutes or miles. Take in every inch of the moments you can, so they help to propel you forward during the uphill battles that you are bound to wage.
And be unyielding about it. Perhaps, even resolute in your irresoluteness.