Tuesday, May 9

And then you turn forty.

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!


ThoughtsInsideMyHead said...

Wow. Awesome post. (Are you 40 years old? Just wondering, because I was sure you were way younger than I am... LOL)

I needed to read this today. I was laid off of my part-time employment, yet again. Is there a bigger reason why, at the age of 42, I have no career to speak of? Why is it that all of the women I admire have wonderful careers AND happy successful children? Why has my road been so bumpy and why am I not on the same road as mother was at my age? Do my teenage children really need my presence 24/7? I discovered something yesterday that answers that question for me, at least now, the answer is a definitive "yes, they probably do."
(though this is not what we all may have chosen at this time)

The road hardly ever the road we envisioned for ourselves, is it?

Needleroozer said...

Wow! You write so eloquently, and always hit the nail right on the head, saying just what I need to here, and truly know in my heart to begin with. Very beautifully said.

Jennie C. said...

You are a wise woman.

Emily said...

Dy, this made me laugh. And then cry. And then laugh again. Thanks for writing it.

Jess said...

Dy - I sure am glad our caravans ride together so many times on this bumpy ride. Who else would I syphon (?) gas from? LOL

I had life so planned when I was younger. College from 18-22, meet my husband at 23, marry at 25 (ya know, to make sure we were compatible), first child at 27 and second (and last) at 29. Do you know how funny that is now? ROFL I won't even go into what sort of lifestyle I imagined I'd have. It's definately NOT what I have now. But I have learned through the years wisdom can't be measured by material things. It's measured by experience. And I can't say there will ever be a more richer experience than raising my 5 children has been with my husband.

I love you - great post!


mamabear said...

Whoa doggie! You sure know how to put thoughts into words, girlfriend!
I needed to hear that today and it brought a few tears to my eyes.

Laney's little 80's post and yours reminded me of the song: Life is a Highway

Life's like a road that you travel on
When there's one day here and the next day gone
Somethimes you bend and sometimes you stand
Sometimes you turn your head to the wind
There's a world outside ev'ry darkened door
Where blues won't haunt you anymore
Where brave are free and lovers soar
Come ride with me to the distant shore
We won't hesitate
Break down the garden's gate
There's not much time left today

Life is a highway
I wanna ride it all night long
If you're going my way
I wanna drive it all night long

Through all these cities and all these towns
It's in my blood and it's all around
I love you now like I loved you then
This is the road and these are the hands
From Mozambique to those Memphis nights
The khyber Pass to Vancouver's lights

Knock me down get back up again
You're in my blood
I'm not a lonely man
There's no load I can't hold
Road so rough this I know
I'll be there when the light comes in
Just tell 'em we're survivors

Gimme gimme gimme gimme yeah
If you're going my way
I wanna drive it all night long
There was a distance between you and I
A misunderstanding once
But now we look in the eye

There ain't no load that I can't hold
Road so rough this I know
I'll be there when the light comes in
Just tell 'em we're survivors

Life is a highway
I wanna ride it all night long
If you're going my way
I wanna drive it all night long

Jess said...

OK, I can't help myself. After reading about the 2ft tall child that sticks his hand down strangers shirts this picture kept coming to mind. I'm sure that lady never thought she'd get such a laugh before she had her sweet baby. ;-)


Brandie said...

8 years into this journey and it seems to me you've learned a lot already ;-) And what a great way to say it ... the road is bumpy sometimes (okay, most days it feels like the road is bumpy here) but we do have happy healthy children and I won't look back and regret it! So thanks for that reminder! And good luck to you as your journey continues.

Melora said...

Very nicely said.

I'm taking a short break between being yelled at by a frantic mortgage broker and a stubborn underwriter, and just wanted to say "hi," and that Emily is beautiful and I admire your courage in trying to refill ink cartridges!


Jules said...

What a beautiful, beautiful post. You have such a way of hitting the nail on the head in a gentle and wise manner.

Thanks for the reminder of why we have chosen the path that we have.

Gem said...

Oh, you are so not 40, are you? I always imagine you as years younger than me, you have so much energy and get so much done. Please, please, please tell me you've barely hit 30. Please? I would really like to keep my excuse for having such a lazy butt (I'm getting ooooolllldddd).

Jess said...

please inform mamabear she's gotten "Life is a Highway" so stuck in my head! AHHHHH get it out!!!

mamabear said...

Ah Jess, ya know I love ya!
Got it stuck in my head too now.
Ack! Seems to be a recurring theme with me. 80's music and Elvis.
Make it stop!!!!


Jennifer said...

I am a friend of a friend of yours who has been slinking around enjoying your posts but never commented - now I must! You are a fantastic writer! I laughed and cried so hard at this post, especially *snacks* on your survival kit section. What a little cup of sesame honey cashews won't fix? A sucker from the teller at the bank (when the kids actually spy it coming in and I can't ditch it "accidentally" out the window between the car and the sucker tube thing) A glass of wine for my man who has had a long day (yeah, I consider that a snack)a...chocolate bar! You have put me on a roll and I just had to let you know how much I enjoy what you have to say. Thanks so much!

Lynette said...

You should be published somewhere--don't lose all this stuff you write. When you get your days back, get it all out and send it in. Until then, thanks for publishing for us to read. You make the path seem not so bumpy suddenly.