My life is pretty relaxing right now, but there’s a cold spell every day that derails all my most elegant and sturdy emotional trains, and that’s the dark hallway between 8:30 a.m. and 8:42 a.m., when my two daughters go to high school.
I would offer you details – sounds, especially; terrifying sounds! — but your delicate sensibilities might not tolerate such descriptions. If you’re familiar with Shirley Jackson’s work, or if you started reading Mark Danielewski’s “House of Leaves” and then stopped because you couldn’t get through it, you have some idea of the possibilities.
My oldest daughter now drives my youngest daughter to school in our minivan. It’s like watching Toonces the cat behind the wheel taking a ride in the car with his little sister in the passenger seat. The van is badly damaged, which my oldest daughter complained about fiercely, until she started bringing in a few dents and scrapes herself.
I started this downward trend 10 years ago, when our van was savagely mauled by an invisible but vicious curb somewhere outside of Las Vegas. Since then, an entire side panel has sagged and sometimes dragged along the road, a compromise in aerodynamics and peace of mind that wasn’t even visible when we stopped at gas stations every day. the five minutes because someone little had to “go potty”. » The term “going potty” alone is enough to evoke that bright and nervous time when half the words in our mouths were bequeathed to us by teachers and other parents determined to make baby speak directly into the bowels of the child. hell.
But back then, we often felt like our bodies and minds had been seized by merry demons from the bowels of hell, or maybe we’d been abducted and transformed forever by mischievous aliens from distant galaxies. Because while we wiped butts and filled cups and sang about baby whales (a tune they’re surely playing in hell as we speak), we always tried to keep everything merry and light and loving and together, light and rhyming and not too much. filthy. In other words, we weren’t ourselves.
So of course we drove a crumpled minivan around town without shame. The aliens who controlled our brains didn’t care about style or image. They were silly aliens (idiot, another ubiquitous parenting term, which could mean either evil or irrational). These good-natured idiots from outer space just wanted us to get a little pleasure out of every calamity. Our lives alternated between panic and joy. We were never completely at rest, we were always on duty, but it was still pleasant.
Viewers sometimes believe that parents force a life of dirt and chaos into a happy form, just to avoid regretting their bad choices. It’s an understandable view of human beings who strive around the clock to turn green vegetables into tasty treats and turn frightening unknowns into fun mysteries. A reviewer on Amazon complained that I was dishonest about my parenting in my marriage memoir “Foreverland.” I made it fun and it was obviously a lip gloss. Parenting is all thrills, spills and torments. I was a liar.
It’s a shame that the reviews on Amazon aren’t carved in stone on the cave walls, so that generations to come can marvel at the fascinating emotional afflictions suffered by these mysterious ancient people. But what I mostly think when I read these comments — or come across another article about how parenting is an exhausting hellscape — is that the thrills, spills, and torments of parenting are pleasure.
Even hardship can be joyful, when you surrender to the chaos and marvel at the parents’ rustic overhaul of your life. Even as you lose track of concepts like serenity, self-respect, and human dignity, you gain a sense of calm acceptance of the beautiful imperfections and suspenseful twists inherent in life among the little savages.
That said, it’s hard to see clearly when you’re in the middle of it all. Now that our years of juggling mewling babies made of terror and magic have been compressed into 12 minutes of scary sounds in the morning, plus a peaceful hour of conversation over dinner each night, I have entered an age of reckoning that gives sometimes feels like studying. cave drawings to understand the last 17 years of my life. As Toonces and his little sister disappear down the road like a strange lingering punchline, I can see that the thrills and spills will now take place elsewhere – out of sight, out of reach.
Case in point: The minivan now has two new dents, both in the front, both coated in white paint. The white paint on the left is from the porch of a beach house with a very small driveway that was then filled with cars. The white paint on the right is from a high school student’s white BMW.
It’s a shame I can’t carve the receipt for this BMW’s body repair work in stone on a cave wall, so that generations to come can marvel at the financial entanglements that arose among the ancients young people learning to line up their fossil fuel tanks next to each other.
At least the van’s bumper was made triumphantly trapezoidal, a veritable beacon for the most privileged kids riding to school in shiny, perfect sports cars. “They must envy you,” I told my oldest daughter, explaining that her crushed bumpers are a sign that she is crush it without undue assistance from any wealthy overlord.
Imagine driving your dream car before you even get your first job! Imagine never experiencing the character-building satisfactions of menial tasks like vacuuming and cleaning toilets, tasks that must seem so silly to his wealthy classmates, since their housekeeper takes care of them every week. Yet it is precisely these dirty and humiliating ordeals that build resilience and courage!
Not surprisingly, my eldest daughter remained unmoved by my words and, at this moment, was stomping up the stairs angrily. My husband looks agitated and ready to lay down the law, but I give him a look that says: Abandon Dorothy.
Because even if the minutes between 8:30 and 8:42 are dark and full of terrors, it is a lot for little kids who were drinking juice boxes a millisecond ago to shower, gather their stuff, and do the expert-makeup-artist level of trimming and polishing they learned on TikTok, then eat breakfast And SO drive a fossil fuel tank without hitting another tank by accident. It’s a test for them. But I keep telling them to notice that it’s also fun. I keep pointing out that it’s scary but it’s also happy, all of it, even the part where they’re crying on the phone about how they wrecked a car and what do I do now?
When my daughter asked me this, I told her what I tell myself every morning: “Don’t think about it too much. These calamities happen all the time, to everyone. Try to enjoy the drama of it all.
Maybe I talk too much about joy, so much so that it makes me unbearable to be there, like a bubbly baby whale. I don’t give in to the chaos now, but I relish it. But can you blame me? These mischievous idiots from outer space begin packing up their spaceship, preparing to leave for good. Terror and magic escape my sight, beyond my reach. And it’s a lot for a middle-aged woman possessed a millisecond ago to face a life of autonomy and free will. Don’t leave yet, I whisper to them. Not yet.
Heather Havrilesky writes: “Ask Polly” and is the author of “Foreverland: On the Divine Boredom of Marriage” and “How to Be a Person in the World.”