That's it. That's how it happens. One minute, you own matching jeans/boots in a full array of colors and then everything you own comes in two color choices: primary, and spitup. Eventually you graduate into crayon and dry erase, but you have to work for those options. They don't just hand 'em out to anyone, you know.
One day, it's all about highlighting the eyes - draw attention to your best features and really make 'em "pop". And then, a few years down the road, you realize your best feature is only two feet tall and randomly sticks his hand down strangers' shirts. Yes, the eyes are gettin' a bit crinkly around the edges, and so you play off the lecherous-but-cute angle with exuberance (because as long as they're looking at the kid, you appear normal -- you know, from a distance...)
For a while, it's all about you - what you want, who you are, where you're going. Then comes this humongous detour. It's so big, you have no idea how you didn't see it coming (and most of us don't), but the road's not paved. There are no maps! Everybody is barreling down the path full steam ahead, tanked up on caffeine and completely sleep deprived. And you panic. Because weren't we told to expect that the path to the future had been... paved, at least? The job, the career, the husband, the children, the tan, the perfect gravity-free breasts, and the maid?
What do you do when you're bumping down this detour of Parenthood and you suddenly find that your goals, your dreams, your aims, your values - in general, your entire job description for Parenthood is diametrically opposed to what you'd envisioned down that paved, four-lane highway? Instinctively, you want to reconcile the two. Soon, before you run out of gas out there in the boonies.
So you put out the SOS, and people reply. But their input varies widely. Some encourage you to follow what you know in your heart to be right for your family. Some people insist that if you aren't feeling martyred, you're just not working hard enough. Some may even encourage you to ditch that whole "instinct" hoopla and just turn around, drag the kids back onto the highway and keep going as if nothing's changed. The status quo awaits and they'll keep the light on for ya. And yet others nod slowly and back away, muttering something about stocking up on condoms. Whose advice do you take?
Well, I'm not even going to pretend that I am unbiased when it comes to this point. Obviously, I have a skewed perspective on things. We're bumping along the dirt path with kids and a dog hanging out every open window, still sleep-deprived and overly-caffeinated. Nobody will admit to being in charge of navigation, but we both do a head count before we head out and again when we arrive. (We don't care where we are, as long as everybody makes it.) But we've met others along the way and have a pretty great caravan of fellow travelers. We stop at all the Historic Markers, let the kids pee on the side of the road, take pictures, eat whatever we find in the cushions and glovebox of the Suburban, hop back in and head off to the next adventure. Is this what we envisioned? Um, no. It's harder. And it's better. And it's far richer than any measly plans we concocted all those years ago. And when I'm feeling small. Or inadequate. Or even just a little selfish, I turn to the One Person who really has all the facts and all the insight into why we do what we do: Zorak. More than anybody else on the face of this planet, he is the best one for reminding me that it's all good. That we're okay, and that this is GREAT. And I am his best resource, too. Because it's OUR family. Just like your family is YOURS. And THEIR families are THEIRS. And when you're afraid you're going to turn around and find that suddenly you're twice the age you were the last time you checked, the best person for a pre-flight check is your partner and fellow traveler. The rest of us may have the best of intentions, but we may not always be on the same wavelength.
We believe that in the end, the detour is short. It is, undeniably, life-changing. But it's short. One day we will be handed back our days, to do with as we please. We will be given all the time in every year hence to travel, conquer the world, write novels, run for obscure offices in small counties. Whatever. And I can say with certainty that we won't look back and say, "Wow, I sure wish we'd have gotten more sleep that week that John was so sick," or "Boy howdy, homeschooling the kids worked out so well, but why didn't we just put them in daycare?" And it's safe to say that at least some of those days we get to ourselves in the next season will be spent calling "the kids" to see what they're up to, to take the grandbabies to the park, to invite everyone to come for supper (you know, that one meal of the day I can never figure out what to do with now? Yep, the same one.) I don't want there to be any irony at that point.
But the beginning is hard. Sometimes you feel like you got the junker car and it must be push-started every. single. time. Sometimes you feel like you meant to go North and you think you're going North, but the compass keeps saying Southeast. Sometimes you feel like there are so many bumps and detours-upon-detours that you'd get there (wherever that may be) faster if you got out and walked. But you know, you'll never gain momentum if someone is always getting out to walk. It's the continuous, focused, team effort to Life and Parenthood that gets the junker going in the right direction. And once you've got momentum, a map, a plan, and the ability to enjoy the scenery, you'll find that it's a great trip! It's most likely not the one you laid out in your heart of hearts way back when, but it's great. And like I said before, it's short.
So, bare bones survival list for the whole Parental Detour thing:
___Someone to watch your back, cover your butt, and love you through it. (And vice versa.)
___A vision, and the flexibility to blend it with n other visions (n being the number of folks involved in your journey.)
___Sense of humor.
___Graciousness to handle the truly embarrassing things and come away without making anyone, including yourself, feel bad. (The boob-happy two year old mentioned above is nothing compared to other delightful surprises that await you!)
We are still SO new to this journey - only eight years into it. We have a lot more to learn, and probably a lot of things to add to our survival kit. We do get wonderful suggestions, tips, and BTDT insight from others, but we have also come to turn immediately to one another when there's a question of which way to go, or a concern that we might run out of gas before we hit the next stop. We've learned that there are those who will always be honest, and those who will always push their agendas. There are those who will blow smoke, and those who will be lovingly open. We've learned to trust that, too, and one another.
So, just a word or so of encouragement to those who find themselves on the detour and wonder if it really will be worth taking. It will be, just stick together.
Kiss those babies!