My kids and I are standing at the bus stop. It turns the corner a block away. It’s a comfortable dependence, in a world where very little ever seems to go as I expect. Everything is as it should be. Violet has her backpack on, her homework done, she’s talking to a rubber snake in her hand. Henry has his backpack on, his hair sort of combed, and he’s kicking dirty snow with his new shoes.
Nothing can go wrong. The day is starting out alright.
Then again …
Henry looks at me and his face is scrunchy. “Dad, I have to go to the bathroom,” he says.
I smile, and try to deter the detour. “Oh man, bus will be any sec. You’ll be okay. You can hold it till you get to school, right?” I say. But his face gives it away. And just like that, I’m a 45-year-old dude standing out on the street in his cheap pajama pants, with a decision to make.
“I have to go so bad!” my boy says.
He’s 5. A kindergartener. I’d do anything for him. But I want to get him on this bus. I have work to do. “You’ll be okay,” I tell him, each of us desperate now to win this tiny war.
“Daaaaad! I can’t hold it!” he says, holding back tears.
Damn it. “You will miss the bus, man!”
“Okay, fine!” I tell him. “I’m gonna have to drive you now. Why didn’t you go when you were watching cartoons for the last half hour?!” But he’s already gone, racing back to our front porch a few steps away (lucky lad), bound for sweet relief.
I look at Violet. “I can drive you, hon.”
“I don’t want to drive. I want to ride the bus,” she says.
I’m torn in two directions. It isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things, yet I’m thrust into this confused mode when I was least expecting it. It’s familiar ground, though. I’m always so confused with my kids. I feel like I’m always staring at them in bewilderment. How did this just happen? What is my life? Why are we all crying at the same time for different reasons? I want someone to spin me around, look me in the eye, and tell me exactly what to do.
This is a minute scenario. About as small as it gets. But I’m stuck anyway. I’m tired, always tired. I’m mixed up, always unsure.
The bus rounds the corner. It’s been one minute since Henry ran off. He won’t be back in time. I picture him up in the bathroom taking his sweet old time. I’m part angry and part laughing and part bewildered, all at once. It was all going perfectly. Damn it!
“Okay, sweetheart, you hop on the bus. I’ll drive Henry,” I tell Violet.
And that’s what happens.
More often than not, parenting leaves me high and dry. The love is more powerful than speeding comets slamming into mountains, but that’s the big picture thing and sometimes that isn’t enough. There is a loneliness that comes with being a mom or dad. I’m a single parent, but I don’t think it’s exclusive to divorced people. I have this sneaking suspicion that a lot of parents experience raising kids this same way.
We never talk about it, though. To crawl out from under the piles of blankets — of everything we’re supposed to be and of everything we’re supposed to feel at every moment of every day, when it comes to our kids — and to shake our fists at the sky and scream,”Why is this so hard?!” That would be us admitting that sometimes we freaking hate the whole shebang.
Even other parents’ everyday plights are hard to align with our own. Rarely do we relate all the mundane or insane moments that we all go through with other families’. Our kid has a meltdown in the park and we’re immediately self-conscious in front of the other parents around. Their kid has the meltdown and we’re secretly high-fiving ourselves that it’s them, not us.
That’s the extent of it, really. Here and there our worlds collide. The other 99.9 percent of the time we stand alone.
Alone. Even if our partner is present. There is this weird isolationism that folds you and me in its arms. Alone as lone can be. In the kitchen. Staring at 10 acres of spilt chocolate milk racing towards the mail on the table. Exhausted. Now this! Somebody’s weeping. Somebody’s punching your thigh. Somebody’s calling your name. Something’s burning. Something’s rattling in the washing machine.
No one knows, I grumble to myself. No one knows how much I hate this sometimes.
The love, though.
It’s funny how it works.
We recharge. We reboot. I lose myself to a 6 PM tide. I yell at the kids. Then by 7 PM or so things turn around on their own. Somehow I get them upstairs, all three of them. Alone. By myself. Me and them. They brush their teeth and put on their PJs. I feel bad for hollering. I feel guilty and dumb. I wonder if I’ve damaged their tiny hearts forever, as I lean against the hallway wall between their bedrooms and watch them do their thing.
They run by me, excited for a little cartoon time or a story before bed. They’re giggling. They’re wound up when I need them to wind down. But they’re happy as hell. Just look at ’em.
It’s a lonesome ride to get us all here every night. But here we are again. I think it might all be worth it. This lonely parenting thing is hard. But I think it might be worth it.More On