Wednesday, March 18, 2009

snotty noses and all

I've had occasion recently to consider the trade-offs I make as a parent. The shape of my life requires me to be ready to drop what I'm doing at a moment's notice. My ability to truck off to New York or Norway is essentially nil. Whole weeks can be thrown off by a PTA meeting and an extra project at work, and whole plans can be scuttled when I realize that Banana and I need a little more fun or down time. My dining decisions are defined by a six-year old's quirky tastes — though when it comes to that, Banana is better than most; and while I could feed her and eat something different later, I value family time at the table. My social world has mostly collapsed into groups of parents, and I'm so accustomed to having a slew of kids racing around that I feel like something's missing when there aren't kids playing in our friends' yards; in fact, my hope for this summer is to have more kids playing in our yard. My work life is punctuated by regular conversations about irregular schedules — a ballet pick-up gone awry, a day when school is closed, spring break, summer camp, and so on. I've even reached a point where I'd rather talk about kids and kid-related issues than most other topics — music, design, and politics aside.

Do I miss the days when I played pool all the time (and when I was on top of my game)? Occasionally. Do I miss the days when I didn't have to put dinners out in the context of saving for summer camp and travel? Sometimes. Do I miss having complete control over my time? Not really. Do I value my "adult" time when I don't have to be Daddy? Of course. Do I wish there were more of it? Not really.

The truth is I love the shape my life has taken. Even on the worst mornings when Banana is moving slowly and we get out the door twenty minutes late. Even in the roughest evenings when she's over-tired and tries to push my buttons rather than go to bed. Even when I have to skip a concert because tickets aren't in the budget and the logistics of rearranging schedules or hiring a babysitter just won't work. Even when I buy food that isn't finished or books that I know she won't read more than once. Even when I have to sit through another round of High School Musical. Even as I negotiate paying back the grad school loans I took so we could provide the best care and time for the first two years of her life. Even through all of these bittersweet moments, I never look back to the life I led as anything more than a spectator on the past.

I've crossed the point where I remember what my world was like before Banana came along. I've actually crossed into the territory where I barely understand the feelings of kid-phobes — those people who are delaying the leap to adulthood and parenthood, or worse still, those who simply don't like kids. I've crossed into a world where I not only like being a parent, I've accepted that it is a defining role.

It comes down to this: you listen to your kid reading a book and realize this is the same baby you tossed in the air six years ago, and you realize that nothing else in the world is as important as that moment.