Thursday, April 28, 2011

You Never Know What You're Going to Get

It would be difficult to chronicle all of the misconceptions I had about motherhood in the 37 years it took me to become a mom.

Suffice it to say that almost all of my decades-long imaginings of parenthood were somewhere between slightly and wildly off the mark. I dreaded a whole bunch of things (like, for example, the diapers, the schlepping of baby things, the gross perma-smell that infects your car) that ended up bothering me very little. Then there were things (like the inter-mommy politics, the pre-school searchings, and the unrelenting laundry) that ended up blindsiding me with their terribleness because I'd never even stopped to consider them.

Now that I am firmly in possession of two children of my own, what surprises me most of all is that I seem to have misunderstood the very nature of parenthood itself.

I had always likened raising a child to being a sculptor -- I imagined it would be akin to being handed an 8-pound lump of clay. Then I would hone and shape said mass into the child of my dreams through proper use of discipline, carefully selected enrichment activities, and the judicious doling out of snacks and treats.

But I can now tell you with absolute certainty that being a parent is absolutely nothing like being a sculptor.

Because a baby really bears no resemblance to a lump of clay. Instead, a baby is much more like a very small human being.

It's shocking. I know. Take a moment if you must.

Instead of "shaping" this little human's personality, it is more like you desperately cower before it in terror until you can figure out some way to guide it ever so slightly in the direction of your choosing.

This is Baby Snood. Baby Snood is angry.

Take, for example, the Snood. My son emerged from the womb turned up to eleven. Snoodie didn't cry, he shrieked. He didn't smile, he cackled. He didn't roll over, he spun.

By the time the Snood started to crawl, I realized that there was no hope that our 600-square-foot apartment could contain him. So each morning I would lead him out the front door into the square hallway that rimmed our building's courtyard. I'd let Snoodie crawl the 50-yard span for an hour at a time, in an attempt to tire him out.

When we finally moved into a two-bedroom house with a small yard I hoped that the added space might satiate Snoodie's seemingly endless need to roam.

It did not.

Instead I found myself allowing little Snoodie to explore the sidewalks of our cul-de-sac on all fours. Neighbors would look at me askance as I walked next to the crawling Snood, his knees becoming increasingly blackened by the exhaust-based city grime.

"You have the dirtiest baby I've ever seen!" exclaimed the seven-year-old down the block, "He looks like a chimney sweep!"

And the kid had a point.

Eventually Snoodie got his two feet under him and learned to walk. While this meant that his filthiness index went down, his wanderlust only increased exponentially. These days no yard can contain him, no playground can hold him. For outings, we gravitate towards places like the zoo or large park spaces, where Snoodie can get in a multi-mile wander while Crinks and I scurry anxiously in his wake.

In between all this huffing and puffing to keep up with him, I must admit I find precious little time for molding the Snood in my own image. Instead, I am content to merely attempt to saw off some of his roughest edges. Currently, we're working on things like sitting through meals without taking any items of clothing off and making it through Sunday mass without yelling out, "DON'T LIKE IT HERE!" too many times.

They are simple adjustments, really, but on my better days I allow myself to imagine that we may actually be able to achieve them.

And I'm keeping a close eye on the now rapidly crawling Crinkles. Because I understand now that I'm not the one shaping him, I'm just the one entrusted with his care....

...if I can keep up with him, that is.