Much internet ink (as it were) has been spilled about the joy of being a parent, especially a mother, especially a new mother. There is so much to take joy in: little hands, little feet, big eyes, funny thighs. Your baby at your breast. Your baby's first steps. Your baby reaching for you, babbling. Ecstatic joy, bittersweet joy, heartbreaking joy, tearjerking joy, explosive joy. If you have read the earlier days of my blog (go back to the archives from 2008), if you have read any blog that covers the writer's early-mommying days, you are familiar with these joys. They have been well-documented, and will continue to be well-documented. Deservedly so: they are important truths.
But I want to talk about something else. I want to talk about getting your kids fed and clothed and out of the house. I want to talk about getting your kids to the subway, to the market, to the post office. Dragging them to the park to play with their friends, and they love it and it's magical, but they have tantrums all the way there and all the way home, and you lose your temper so many times that you lose count. Carrying a couple heavy bags and maybe a couple umbrellas too. And of course a kid. You are always carrying a kid. Sometimes two.
This is the fabric of everyday life with your children, and this, too, must be the stuff of joy, must be integrated into your understanding of what "joy" is. It's a tough kind of joy, but joy nonetheless. If you seek more joy, prettier joy, fancier joy, than what can be found in these workaday trials, you may find yourself disappointed, especially as your baby grows older. Because as your baby grows older, you will find fewer moments of concentrated, heart-rending ecstasy, and more moments of your children saying "I HATE YOU" because you will not allow them to have a third lollipop at ten o'clock in the morning. And if you can't find some sort of joy in those moments, there won't be much joy at all. If you can't find some sort of joy in those moments, they will kill you.
For instance, the photos below, taken at the Union Square greenmarket, are kind of a travesty of the truth. First of all, I dropped my older son with a friend at the playground before the shoot, because we only had an hour and I couldn't risk him wasting that time by being disagreeable and refusing to behave properly for the photos. I dropped my tote bag with my friend too; under normal circumstances, there would be no way I would be waltzing around the market carrying only a half-full wicker tote. Under normal circumstances, I'd also be carrying training pants, a water bottle, a book, some toys, some snacks. Under normal circumstances, there would be hand-pulling, whining, and negotiations about treats. The two boys would argue and maybe hit each other and make each other cry. Then we would go to the playground, and they would cry when it was time to leave. Exiting the subway at 135th Street and walking home, dragging our market haul on top of everything else, I would probably feel slightly traumatized, war-torn. That's how it usually it is. It's not as pretty as the photos here. But still, at the end of the day, when I say that I had an amazing day and I love going to the market with my boys, I'm not lying. I do love it. I take joy in the entire process. I must.
I'm not talking about masochism or martyrdom here - the enjoyment or glorification of suffering for its own sake. That's boring, rote, old hat - the opposite of joyful. Instead, I mean the continuous willingness to plunge back into the next day, the next hour, the next moment, even when the last one was truly terrible - or maybe because it was. I mean the continuous effort to remain engaged in your work as a parent, a human being, a citizen of the earth.
Our children come into this world through no fault of their own. We will them here because we are selfish and thoughtless and enslaved by our stupid reptile brains. It's not their fault that they present us with logistical, emotional, and financial challenges. They don't mean to. They don't mean to do anything. They're just here, because that's what we wanted. As such, it is our responsibility to be joyful - or, at the very least, pleasant - in the face of the challenges that their existence brings, that we have brought upon ourselves. As such, it is our responsibility to approach every day with joy - or, at the very least, with our best game faces.
Joy is not just something granted by the heavens to a lucky few. It is something that we can create. This is our day-to-day work as parents: to insist upon joy in our lives, to find it even in the least likely moments. Because if we don't do this for ourselves and for our children, no one else will.