Last week, my four-month-old son Leo had a major diaper blowout in the grocery store. By the time we got through the checkout line there was florescent yellow poop all over my jeans, the Bjorn, the car keys and the grocery bag. In freezing-cold weather, I had to do a full decontamination in the back seat of the car, then rush home and get us both bathed and to a potluck within the hour.
So when Leo and I got back to my parents’ house, which is also temporarily our house, I was flustered. We performed a second decontamination in the laundry room, which included tossing out his socks, pants and onesie alongside the package of wipes I’d gone through in the car.
That night, post-potluck, I overheard my mother telling my father that I was “completely undone” by the situation.
I wanted to overreact, to scream that I coped with the supermarket fiasco just fine, thank you very much. But I just hauled Leo’s car seat to our downstairs bedroom, silently promising myself that Leo would be permitted to be as emotional as he pleased, whenever he pleased, about whatever he pleased.
In the retelling, this little “undone” comment sounds like a small thing. But it’s the kind of thing that, wrapped in thirty-eight years of history together, makes living with my parents while being a parent one of the greatest challenges I’ve ever faced.
Moving in with my parents was a last-minute decision. I was single, five months pregnant, and living in Manhattan when it became apparent that the job I’d lined up wouldn’t be as child-friendly as I’d hoped. The hours were long, health insurance was only partially covered and there would be no paid maternity leave. Without a better job, I couldn’t afford to stay in New York, nor could I afford to move anywhere else. When I’d visited my parents a month earlier, they’d offered to let me move in with them for a while so I could spend time with the baby and get my financial footing. At the time, I’d rejected their offer flat out. But as plans a, b and c disintegrated, it started to look like moving back to Seattle was the only option.
Living with my parents has plenty of advantages. Most importantly, I get to spend more time with Leo, because I don’t have to worry about paying rent. But it also means raising my son in an environment where stiff upper lips are mandatory, where his illegitimate arrival was first greeted with shock and shame, where emotions are swallowed and then fester. Though my family has plenty of positive traits that I hope he’ll inherit – the loving of reading, for one – when it comes down to it, I don’t want to raise my son the way my parents raised me.