Parenthood, Distilled

I never really wrote about our trip to Disneyland. By the time I’d gotten back I’d recounted the trip so many times, I couldn’t really bring myself to sit down and write about it. And I still am not ready to outline some kind of hour-by-hour account of what happened (though I really should so I have an accurate account for posterity’s sake), but there is something I do want to say about it, because I feel it happening again here (and I knew it would–it was the main reason I didn’t want to go this year).

Time and again after we got back from Disneyland, people asked if it was fun. Sometimes I said, “Yeah, it was awesome,” sometimes I said, “It was fun, but really tiring,” and sometimes I answered with the truth, “It was as awesomely good as it was terribly challenging.” Basically it was like parenthood, distilled.

Our trip to Disneyland was awesome, and I wouldn’t go back and decide not to go, but it was also the most exhausting, challenging, generally upsetting four days I’ve experienced in a long, long time. That is what parenthood is like, I’d never want to forgo parenthood, but it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Much like our trip to Disneyland–the highs are so high and the lows are so low and a lot of the time I just want to bang my head against the side of It’s a Small World until I’m comatose.

This trip is like that too. I don’t regret coming here, because the memories we’re making with my family are priceless, and yet every morning I count the hours until we get to go home. I long for our house and our beds and our routine and our stuff being where it belongs, and having a little order under all the chaos. Right now it’s JUST chaos (there is no order underneath) and it’s making my head swim. I can’t keep my feet on the ground and every night I fall into bed bone tired and yet unable to sleep.

That is what parenthood is like. The moments are priceless and yet the day to day grind is wearing in ways you can’t quite articulate. You make 99% of your choices for someone else and you rarely, if ever, do what’s best for you. At the end of the day your own happiness hinges on whether other people are happy, not just because you take joy in their joy but also because they make their suffering your suffering too.

It’s hard. Really hard. And I don’t think we hear about that part very much, not in honest, meaningful ways at least. I mean sure, you can read a million HuffPo pieces with witty countdowns of the ten reasons parenting is harder you thought it would be, but there isn’t a lot of honest commentary on how parents can be standing in a room full of other adults and feel more isolated than when they’re at home alone with their pre-verbal toddler. People don’t mention how the frustration can well up in your with such sudden ferocity that it’s all you can do to blink back the tears. You don’t read about how fast a blindingly painful tension headache can descend when you think your four year old has knocked out her two front teeth but you can’t tell for a few agonizing seconds because there is just SO MUCH BLOOD (true story, I’ll tell it later).

People don’t talk about how it’s not just what you’re like as a person that will dictate how you parent–and view parenthood–but it’s about what your kid is like too. They don’t mention that you might end up with a little person whose personality and attitude so perfectly clash with your own that it’s difficult just to meet their basic needs. Parenthood can be really hard, and whether you feel like it is depends on so many things. You really can’t know how you’ll experience parenthood until you’re actually experiencing it, because you can’t know what your kid will be like and how you will respond to the way your kid i until that kid is in your life and you have to make it work. I feel like every minute of every day I’m dragged to the edge of what I knew about myself and then, just when I think my footing is secure, I’m flung out into the void and I have to plummet flailing into the abyss, wondering where this treacherous fall will leave me. I’ve learned more about myself in the last four years than in the 30 before, and a great deal of it hasn’t been good. In fact a lot of it I’d rather not know about myself at all.

That is what Disneyland was like. It was equal parts a literal dream come true and a waking nightmare. i experienced some of my happiest moments as a parent there, and also some of my darkest and most shameful. It’s hard to sum up the experience in a quick sentence or two. It’s that cognitive dissonance again, the one that defines parenthood for me, more than anything else.

So yeah, Disneyland was fun, and so is this trip with my family, but it’s also really freaking hard. And mostly, i just wanted–and want–to go home.

Do you find traveling with children to be a distilled experience of parenthood? What do you love most about? What do you find most challenging?

4 responses

  1. I read your post just after I finished a post in response to the article that was circulating a few weeks ago by the mom who said going to Disney would be her worst nightmare and there was no way in hell she would take her kids. Basically the post I just read was saying exactly what you said- that your child’s behavior at home will be magnified at Disney, but it is worth it to make those memories. I find travelling in general stressful and it’s not my favorite thing to do (although I am super excited about my trip in a few weeks!) but travelling with children- ugh. Maybe it’s because my last experience travelling with G was such a nightmare and it’s scarred me for life. I have a really good friend who right now is on a 2.5 week European vacation/cruise with her 4 and 2 year olds- NO THANKS. Anyway, I think your description of parenthood and the paradox it often is is spot on. I hope that you survive the rest of your trip and make a few lasting wonderful memories 🙂

  2. So so true! Our trip to Disneyworld last year was 98% awesome, but traveling now with a baby who won’t sleep well anywhere but his own crib – exhausting! We always come home wondering why we went in the first place. But I know why – so we can say we did. So we can make little trips part of our kids earliest memories. So we can wear that badge of honor – because if we can survive a trip with young kids – we can survive anything. We just got home from one night away. No one slept. We worried the whole time that Matthew would fall into the lake. We had no routine to the day. We watched, horrified, as everyone fed the kids cookies and sugar. Did I mention no one slept? But we did it. We survived. And we will again! And so will you! 😁

  3. I couldn’t agree with this more, and I’d be curious to hear whether/how your expectations affect your experience in these distilled-parenthood times. As a new parent, I hyped myself up for these quintessential “parenthood” moments that I’d so been looking forward to during the IF/loss years, and so when the moments came they sucked because you’re dealing with an actual child with thoughts and emotions and SO MUCH CRAZY. Now I lower my expectations but it still sucks when, for instance, my kid kicks my soda across my lap and all our food at our first family picnic 🙂

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