Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Awful, Terrible, Wonderful, Lovely

The baby is back.

He returned in the company of his grandparents on Monday evening, after a final fun-filled outing that took him to the Mall of America and Underwater World. We were standing on the front steps, waiting, gazing down the street looking for Grandma's Grey Car.

In less than two hours, I was in tears. At 1:00 a.m., I thought "How on earth have we been doing this for two years?"

Studies often show that parents are less happy than their childless-by-choice peers, and though I am sure a bunch of parents have their panties in a bunch over a recent New York Times Magazine article that addresses this, screaming that parenting is a gingerbread joy ride and how dare you suggest anything different, I gotta say, I agree. Am I happier now than I was? No, I don't think so. Am I less happy? Probably.

I don't know if it's fair to compare happiness for the child-ed vs. childless. I'm different now. Things are different. Sometimes I ache for the freedom to stop at the bar on the way home from work or eat an entire meal, slowly, in one sitting, but I could not bear to not have my son, now that he is here.

What does it mean to be happy? If happiness means not rinsing poop out of diapers, I was happier in 2007. We don't forget what it was like before, so when we have to do something unpleasant, or our routine changes because of a child, it's easy to resent it. And feel less happy. And then feel guilty about feeling less happy because you're supposed to be happy because children are wonderful. It's a nice little feedback cycle.

Then, because the wonderful things about parenthood are not comparable to the life we had before, they are given less weight by our brains, which are trying to find patterns and evaluate data. Sitting and reading a story with your child, while he points out a heart and says "heart" without prompting from you has no pre-child comparison, and it's a remarkably cool occurrence. But it's easy to forget when you are staggering like a zombie to that same child's room at 2:00 in the morning, remembering how you used to sleep through the night when you were not undead. If you were up at that time in the pre-zombie days, it was your own damn fault. Not sleeping through the night for over two years is insanely miserable, and we remember it more than a sparkly moment about a dumb little pink heart in an Elmo book.

Happiness is all about expectations, really, and not becoming too attached to what you think is going to happen. Invariably, you are attaching yourself to the animated bluebirds version because it's comforting, and you don't want to be all doom and gloom because that is what your high school goth period was for. If I try for realism in my expectations, using known data and including possibilities, I have a much better chance of not being disappointed.

Keep it to yourself, though. People will say you're no fun. And certainly not happy.

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