By Eliza Beth Whittington
It happens. You think you’re old enough. You’re in love. Or not. You planned it. Or not. Caution is thrown to the wind before the soft baby foot of reality kicks in, the blue double lines on a stick show you the parallel lives you’ll lead if you do or do not choose to keep it. But the engagement is set, the cervix is thick, a quiet knowing penetrates your bones—you’re about to be changed by someone you don’t yet know. You tell your lover you’ve made your choice. You quit your vices, you get a place together. You play house and giggle over stupid things, like cooking barefoot in the kitchen. You are told what to eat and what to avoid, you heed the advice, or not, and hope for the best. No one thinks to tell you that being occupied by a child can be a traumatic experience, or that your now-sober mind will perceive the world around you with new clarity.
When you walk, proud-bellied forward into the wild world, you will get unsolicited advice and un-consensual belly-pats. You’re asked probing questions about the gender of your unborn child, on the assumption there are only two genders, determined by genitalia. You are repeatedly given that powerful ominous warning: Your life will never be the same. On the day of birth, no one can explain the skull-shocking, soul-shaking realization: I have only ever been child. Now I will only ever be parent. The magnitude of the realization deepens as you realize how triggering it is to have your sore body on demand for someone else’s needs. That you signed up for this.
Elders in grocery aisles will tell you, “Enjoy it! It goes by so fast!” You smile, sleep-deprived and weepy, and carry on, your baby snoring on your chest. You sneak brief glimpses of their tiny, furrowed sleeping brow, acutely aware that it will soon be replaced by the glowering glare of a teenager. The elders don’t mention the slow-motion. How you will sit breathless, nearly motionless for an hour, your arm asleep under the weight of their perfectly-formed soft skull, so full of things they have yet to learn. The well-meaning elders failed to mention how you will sit as still as a rock in water as time slowly wears away at you and places the sediments of your understanding onto your child as you sit, open shirted, nipple exposed, dripping with milk, and cold with exposure as you muster some inner Buddha calm and just stare at their fluttering eyelids and sticky cheeks, listening to their tiny rapid breaths, reminding yourself to be still, the dishes can wait, it all goes so fast.
Two years of dishes later, you are chasing after an adorable uncivilized being who doesn’t quite speak the language and whose default volume is screaming. You were told it would go by so fast, no one warned you a day home with a toddler was, in actuality, a week, or how loud you’d curse when a toddler chomps down with new teeth. You will have to learn the hard way, through work, or separation, that a day without your child is a seemingly endless, sun-less season. No one tells you that having children is by no means an antidepressant. But to be fair, it is fairly effective suicide prevention.
No one explains that somewhere around age five, the kind eyes and patient smiles of strangers disappear and are replaced by indifference, impatient glances, and even sneers. Meanwhile, you are torn between disciplining your child to be more socially palatable, and climbing with them under the bookstore table to drink hot chocolate and make farting noises and read comic books.
If you do make the choice to bring another life into this world, there are no limits to the lessons you will learn, and there are so many people ready to dispense their wisdom and bad advice on the topic of parenting. As you seek counsel…I say take heed of the tired clichés, for they’re there for a reason…Your child will be your truest teacher and mirror, so study up, and sleep when you can, but not too often…because, it does go by so fast.
Eliza is a poet, parent, painter, carpenter, singer/songwriter, queerdo and preacher to choirs. They like to hike, garden, and scream with the punk band Black Market Translation. Their new book, “Treat Me Like You Treat the Earth,” will be released by Suspect Press on July 19th at Mutiny Information Cafe. Come say hi. You can find more of their work and contact them at ElizatheBeth.com