I’ve been thinking a lot about my job.
I’m a parent. I don’t get paid in conventional dollars. But I do get paid in something. Sometimes it feels like sentiment. Sometimes it feels like a sentence.
But it’s a job, man.
I used to have a steady, good-paying job writing software manuals. And I was decent at it. There were stretches when it was a lot to handle. I can remember being assigned new projects writing about software I couldn’t use. And typically the people who programmed that software were too intellectual to explain it to me.
Deadlines loomed. In those deadlines, I was known to become a tad overwhelmed.
But that was different than parenting. When I had a work project to learn and write up and edit and polish—and when the project felt borderline impossible—I could close the door to my office and spread all my papers out on my desk and pull up my emails on my screen and sit there until I figured it out. I can’t do that now. The difference in my former work and my parenting work is that my former projects were never out walking the streets while I was trying to figure them out and finish them up.
My current projects are out on the streets.
And I’m nowhere near finished with them. I need them to sit still while I read a few more books. Sit here. Don’t go anywhere. I need time.
I’ve been a parent for 18 and a half years now. I’ve been a parent of 4 for almost twelve. I’ve witnessed and participated in—some might even say caused–a few catastrophic moments during those years. There was that time a kid did unspeakable things with their diaper and its contents. There was seaweed eating. Stingray tank licking. The roach in the sliding glass door track. That one week when the potty-training nightmare refused to poop. The summer of childhood constipation. Jaundice and the light suitcase. Being pregnant on July 4 two years in a row. Many, many stomach viruses, often following a big meal of hot dogs. There was colic. Projectile vomiting. Croup. A baby allergic to every food tested except chicken, lamb, and white potatoes. Making the grueling decision to have one repeat the first grade. Having teen boys suffer broken hearts. Failed classes. Difficult job interviews. Stand-offs over medications. Wrangling the before-church Easter photo.
Those things were hard.
Some days we agonized.
But they weren’t the hardest. They were nowhere near the hardest.
The hardest time I’ve lived as a parent is now.
(I didn’t say worst, I said hardest.)
Two boys in high school. Two girls in middle school. Three schools. Kids in 6, 8, 10, and 12.
Crying babies in the night made me a zombie-like shadow of myself. Stomach viruses were hard. And gross. Croup was terrifying. But I knew what to do. I knew to run the shower and hold my boy in the steam until he could breathe freely again. I was a champ at cleaning up any fluid that escaped any body. I knew what they needed and I had the energy and the means to fix it.
Now, I don’t always know what to do. Am I too lenient? Too harsh? Too reactive? Do I hug them or drive over their iPad? Is this problem a temporary thing or a symptom of a larger issue?
I spend a lot of time shrugging at Todd while he gives me his best simmer down speech.
I spend a lot of time trying to catch the pieces that are falling around me.
I spend a lot of time praying.
And I spend a lot of time trying to connect that prayer with the moving pieces. Trying to connect the kids to each other and to me and to the God that hears and answers our prayers.
This parenting thing is a confidence-shaking, low paying, high stress gig. But it comes with some pretty big perks. Sometimes those perks send me texts out of the blue telling me they love me. Sometimes, those perks get along with each other and laugh like hyenas at something they won’t share with me. Sometimes, they help each other with homework. And in those moments, it’s not so scary to have my unfinished business out walking around.
I don’t have it figured out. I’m pretty sure I’ll never figure it out. But it seems important to keep trying.
So I will.