Life's Hard Lessons

This post comes from one of our newest members, Emily. We are happy to have her and her family among our community. 

My son is one month from his first birthday, and I feel awe at the fact that my husband and I are speeding towards completing our first year as parents.  There has been a lot of reflection these past eleven months on the reality of caring for a new life, as well as all the expectations, hopes, fears, thoughts and feelings we had before he was born.  Like all first-time parents, we had no idea what we were in for, and yet we kept stubbornly thinking all would be rosy and beautiful.  We were sure all our dreams and schemes were not only aligned with one another, but we were hopeful the universe would collaborate with us in our plans as well.  After all, we had survived a difficult pregnancy and soon we would face a long birth that wasn’t even close to the event we had imagined for over nine months.  Then suddenly we had a newborn, and a recovering mother and father, and a dog to keep going.  All of us were weary.

It was confirmation of a lesson I have had to learn many times in my life: the universe doesn’t operate the way we want it to.  We don’t earn happiness by enduring sadness and disappointment.  It’s a popular refrain in our culture (you’ll get a break because things haven’t worked out so far…), but I’ve learned this is not a reliable viewpoint.  Because having a beautiful, healthy baby who has rolled over, made sounds, pulled up, crawled, and is now walking, all in one little year—none of that erases the sadness and pain we endured as a family during pregnancy and the losses we’ve had since his birth.  All these things exist simultaneously.  One miraculous and beautiful event does not erase a painful and sad one.  Often life gives us both of these sensations in a single moment.  My baby was born and it was a miracle I could barely comprehend, and it was also a huge loss: the loss of the birth I had wanted and expected and simply could not have.

This makes me think of what we want for our children going forward.  We want very specific things for them, like education, opportunities, friends, we want them to participate in certain activities we value, we even deliberate extensively on their toys and food.  But we also want things much deeper and more difficult to manage.  We want happiness, fulfillment, love and acceptance from the greater world.  And yet, these things are so very out of our control.  I feel I was often given the message growing up (from family, teachers, television, books, politicians—everyone!) that if I only managed my life correctly I could minimize disappointment and maximize happiness.  Or more troubling, that I could negotiate my way towards specific outcomes, essentially that I could “fix” all that was wrong, or if I couldn’t, then there had to be someone out there who could!  Kissing cuts and bumps, rocking back to sleep after nightmares, these are all a part of the parenting code.  But in the back of my mind is the reality that there are going to be so many more hurts and challenges that I cannot fix at all, even a little bit.

This is not a popular view. It’s radical to admit that life is horrible sometimes, and that’s a harsh lesson for very little ones (probably better saved for a slightly older human), but it’s something I plan to not shy away from completely with my little babe as he grows.  Because the only way through this life is to realize that we can survive the awfulness that it throws at us.  It’s also an opportunity to teach him what I have learned: that we have to speak out loud our gratitude, ask for help, and not be afraid to feel our pain in order to find our resiliency.   

As my baby grows, sometimes I’ll be able and willing to fix things for him, but I want him to know, more than anything else, that when I cannot (and when no one else can fix it either) that he not only has a soft and stable place to land (our family), but that he possesses the strength within him to endure.  Giving him that knowledge seems like the greatest gift I can give him.