KIDS: To Have or Not to Have

By Susan Walter January 15, 2013 10:00 AM
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KIDS: To Have or Not to Have

“I’ll regret my life either way.” That’s what my friend Brian said when I asked him if he and his new wife were going to try to have kids. For some couples it’s a no brainer (Of course!…No way!) Others agonize. We tried to be Zen about it: que sera, sera, right? I didn’t know squat about being a mom when I got pregnant. Now that I have two kids, I know marginally more. Here are some things I wish somebody had told me:

Food becomes a BIG part of your life. Buy food, prepare food, serve food, clean up food. When my husband asks, “What did you do today?” this is frequently my answer – kids eat constantly. And never what you want to eat. And never where you want them to eat it. I find bits of food everywhere. Which leads me to my next lesson learned…

Kids are messy. In ways I never imagined. You wash the dishes – they don’t like their food to touch, so there are a lot of them. You wipe the table – somehow they got food on the top and the bottom (?). You wipe the floor and the walls. You wipe their faces and their butts. They go through at least three outfits a day – each. Their favorite activities often seem to involve cutting things into little pieces and gluing them to whatever they will stick to, including themselves. Or building elaborate forts out of bed sheets and sofa cushions, which inevitably topple like dominoes to become an impromptu trampoline. I don’t have a house, I have a crime scene.

Kids are people. As obvious as that sounds, I think sometimes we forget that the little of bundle of joy we just brought into our lives is only going to be a baby for the blink of an eye. I was excited and ready to have a baby. I was clueless and ill-prepared for what came after. My kids have as many wants, needs, opinions, anxieties and disappointments as I do. Makes for a crowded emotional landscape. And since they tend to express their emotions in orders of magnitude more forcefully than I do, how I feel about something is usually irrelevant. But guess what? Their opinions and observations can be extremely insightful. They have a wonderfully fresh perspective on the world and tend to be completely – sometimes shockingly – uninhibited. They tell me stories. They make me laugh. They’re always up for an adventure, and their excitement is contagious. And like good friends, I can always count on them for a hug when I need one.

Kids don’t like to talk about school. “How’s school?” Kids get this question or a variation of it (“What are you studying? What’s your favorite subject?”) from every adult they meet. They hate it. They wonder how we could all possibly be so boring and unimaginative to keep asking the same question over and over. When I drive my daughter and her little friends home from school they talk about hairdos or movies or their new favorite toy. “Let’s pretend we’re pirates!” my daughter bellows when she climbs into the car. I have learned that if I don’t want my kids to tune me out, don’t ask about school.

Kids change who you are. What you talk about, what you think about, what time you wake up, what time you go to bed, the rhythm of your day. I used to be a spontaneous person. Not anymore. More than weather or traffic, when you have a toddler, naps become the variable around which you make plans. Halloween is my new favorite holiday. I worry a lot more. I laugh a lot more. I buy a lot more peanut butter. I am emotionally vulnerable. I am exhausted. I am more alive and creative than I have ever been. I am never lonely.

I often wonder, what did I do all day before I had kids? Why didn’t I accomplish more, travel more, learn a half dozen more languages in my mountains of free time? While I occasionally lament the loss of all that free time, I think my kids are really cool people, and I’m glad I played a part in bringing them into the world. Raising them is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Every second of my day is accounted for. I never travel anymore. I have zero discretionary income. My life isn’t just about me anymore. It took me awhile to accept that. But once I did, I felt a new sense of purpose; one that challenges me to be a more generous and compassionate person.

A fact my kids probably won’t appreciate until they have their own.