I read an insightful piece by NPR blogger Lateefah Torrence today. She is a new mom, and as I have lots of friends who are pregnant or new parents, I thought that her observations were particularly timely, namely, her observations on how difficult parenthood is. She writes, "Before I gave birth, I heard all the parents say it is the toughest job in the world. But I thought it was difficult like the Peace Corps. In my mind, parenting was 'The Toughest Job You'll Ever Love' because of the physical labor and never-ending hours. Oh, I was so very, very wrong. Perhaps as a non-breeder, I didn't listen to the truth or perhaps it's a big parenting secret: It is the emotional and psychological drain of being a parent that will kill you."
I can relate. The nature of parenthood overwhelmed me, too. I am a fierce athlete, a diligent student, an industrious worker. I am a Jack-of-All-Trades. I have something of a Superwoman complex. Certainly I was surprised at how hard it was to be a brand new parent. It had very little to do with trying to heal my body, learn how to nurse, and adapt to sleeping in 2-hour intervals. It had everything to do with the emotional toll of new motherhood.
Let me put in into perspective. I love my brothers. No, I mean I really, really love my brothers. I have been fiercely protective of each of them since they were born. I would get up with my mom for her midnight feedings for both of them. I have cooked for, cleaned up after, and cared for them. They have confided in me their deepest secrets, insecurities, and aspirations. In the days after I gave birth, (at which both brothers were present--and cried openly), I told the older of my two brothers, "You know how much I love you two? Well it's nothing like that." Sure, I cook, clean, and care for my daughter's needs. Lord knows that during those first 6 weeks my body was an absolute wreck from childbirth and lack of sleep. But as my fellow blogger points out, the sheer exhaustion is emotional rather than physical. As a mother, there has to be something chemical or spiritual about the connection, something potent and addictive about your child. Perhaps it has something to do with growing a being inside of you and carrying it around with you for 9 months of pregnancy, (and another 9 months in a Moby Wrap, in my case). Whatever it is, I am consumed with thinking about her, worrying about her well-being, watching her sleep, gazing at her pictures, mulling over her personal development, planning for her future, wondering about her joy or pain every hour of every day.
I love my brothers. I love my parents, my husband, and my friends, for that matter. But I had no idea how different all those would be compared to the love I have for my child. When my daughter was a few weeks old I told my Mom, "If you love me even half as much as I love Zen--thank you. I didn't know anyone could love me that much."
And I have bad news for the other parents out there--it doesn't get any better. I was waxing poetic about my love for my daughter to my Aunt, and she told me that she loves her sons just as deeply to this day. As we discussed it more, I was slightly terrified to realize that she loves (and worries and hope and dreams for) her sons as much as I do for my daughter. But they are grown men! Speaking of grown men, my grandmother sent a care package of candy and Giants gear to my brother because, as she put it, "It's hard to have one of my babies so far away!" He's a 26-year-old law student in Boston. He's hardly a baby, and for that matter he's not terribly far away. But from her perspective, one of her darling progeny was so far from home that she aches for him. Just today I overheard two co-workers talking about all their worries over their sons who are heading back to college this weekend. They have so many worries about the trip there, where they will live, how they will pay for gas, what kind of roommates they will have... If Mom happens to call when I'm sick I play down my illness because I'm afraid she will drive 2 hours to my house to give me a sponge bath and force-feed me Filipino rice porridge. She has done it before.
I'm terrified that I will have to carry this burden for the rest of my life. When she goes to kindergarten I will probably fret over the teacher's credentials, the class size, and the school's standardized test scores. I will still be obsessed over her personal development whether she plays soccer or the violin, competes in karate or a cheer competition, plants a garden or paints a picture. I will always worry about my daughter's well-being, even when she is 16-years-old with a new driver's license and out past 9 pm. I will probably sneak into her room and watch her sleep when she's a gangly, awkward 12-year-old growing into her new body or a grown woman sleeping beside a baby of her own. When she breaks a bone or has her heart broken I will wish that I could hurt for her so she could feel no pain. Then again, every little thing about her, from the smell of her soft caramel hair to her tenacious determination to her carefree grin are unspeakably delicious--and loving her is worth a lifetime of all the tough stuff combined.