Monday, July 28, 2008

Yang It

A friend watched the kids for a day recently so that Eric and I could go to a music festival in town.  We got home late so she ended up staying overnight.  She was cheerful about it, and the kids love her, but before she left, she said (I paraphrase), "Everytime I babysit, it makes me want to have kids less and less."

I get where she was coming from.  It's pretty much exhausting to watch two kids who aren't your own.  You're a novelty to them, so they're extra demanding.  Plus, you want to be entertaining, so you're less likely to pull the "You kids go play by yourself for a while so mommy can look at this J. Crew catalog" line, the way I can and frequently do.  And, as another friend puts it (I paraphrase), "I don't really like kids.  Or dogs.  Unless they're my own."

But here's the thing.  When they are your kids, there's a lot to be gained from it.  In addition to love and entertainment and fullness, you get discipline.  The discipline thing is the main thing, really, because you can get love, entertainment, and fullness without kids, though they are of a different sort.  Nothing disciplines you, however, like having children.  Especially when you can't run away from them, must be nice to them, must try to raise them to be decent, even interesting, human beings, when you yourself are feeling like a fussy child.

Take tonight, for example.  The kids and Eric get home at 4:30, and he starts making dinner.  It's our day to take lunch to Nolie's class of toddlers tomorrow, Addie's lunch has to be made, all the crap from school has to get put away, and I have a killer stomachache.  The kitchen's a mess.  Plus not a very productive day in front of the computer working on a new paper.  The kids alternate screaming like screaming screamers with sweetly hugging and kissing each other until one of them starts screaming again.  Plus I have PMS and would really just like to curl up and watch reruns of Project Runway, or practice playing some new songs on the piano, or work on a stitching project I've just begun. 

Anything but be with my children, who demand my attention.

Then I realize, though, that my problem (aside from the hormonal crankiness and sore tummy) is precisely that I am somewhere else, have not given myself over to the situation.  Lying there on the couch wishing I was someone else somewhere else was a sure ticket to misery in that moment.

So the discipline was to get my ass up off the couch, do some dishes, make the toddlers their lunch, make some tea for me, and sit with the kids and Eric while we all horsed around and raucously played our tambourines and did headstands.  Et, voila!  I was instantly happy.  Because of the discipline of abandoning what I thought I wanted in that moment and just being in that moment.

That is a lesson I don't think I ever would have learned on my own.  Not that people without kids can't--they can.  I just don't think I would have been one of them.  This has expanded my capacity for love, entertainment, and fullness in ways I hadn't imagined before.  This is why, when my best, most beautiful friends tell me they have to do work on themselves before they can even think about children, I tell them don't bother.  You'll have plenty of chances once they get here.  And you probably won't do what you need to do without some sort of kick in the ass.

Kids can be that kick (pain) in the ass.  Because they require discipline.  Love them to death.  Pain in the ass.  But just the kind I needed.  My yin just got yanged.  All I know is the more I babysit, the more I want children.

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