“The greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of the parents.” ~ Carl G. Jung
I was in grad school when I first heard this quote, and it rang so true to me that I vowed I would not place such a load on my own children. The best thing about the creativity tidal wave I have been experiencing lately is that it is helping me get through a really difficult period in Olive’s development. She is figuring out where she ends and I begin, and in the process of that, there is a lot of “NO!”, plenty of food-throwing, and an absolutely unacceptable amount of toddler yelling. Those little lungs can BELLOW!
The other day I said to Joel, “What other group of people have a job is where they get yelled at all day, they can’t yell back, and theydon’t get paid? Oh yeah, prisoners.” Well, unlike folks who are incarcerated, I have the power to change things up. I’ve been praying the Serenity Prayer a lot, to figure out what I do have control over, and letting go of what I don’t.
And that is *sort of* working. I secretly think the glass of wine at the end of the day works better than all the prayer, but I can’t drink when I’m with her, so prayer will have to do!
In fact, whenever I ask my friends who have survived the toddler years how they did it, their answers often include fermented beverages. When I told Estelle that Olive was entering the so-called “Terrible Twos”, she tweeted me this blessing: “may your journey into hell be swift; your drinks strong & your babysitters always available. Gather your reinforcements, friend.” Rhiana just had one word: “booze”.
If I want to get through the next two years without becoming a total alkie, I’ve got to have more tricks up my sleeve than just my nightly glass of wine, but what should they be? Deep breathing and prayer? Check. Doing fun things with Olive so we have as many positive memories as we do battles of wills? Check. But truly, the number one thing I think I can do right now is live a brilliant life myself, immersing myself in things other than just my parenting, so that when Olive throws a tantrum about the cheese she has begged me to bring her, shredding it up and grinding it into the couch with astonishing speed, I won’t feel like my life is a total failure, because I have meaningful things going on other than just parenting.
Olive cannot appreciate that my writing, dancing, and singing is bringing me joy, meaning, and connections with other humans. She’s pretty self-centered — she just wants me at her disposal at all times. But I think children can feel when you are so invested in whether or not they are behaving well that you are taking it personally, basing your worth on their ability to obey a simple request to stop throwing toys at other kids. I’m not advocating disconnection, I’m asking for even MORE engagement with the world around you, so that one day Olive will say, “My mom was really rad. She kept up with her arts practices, even when I was in my screaming-on-the-streets-of-San-Francisco phase.” She may not understand that it is all that is keeping me sane, but hopefully, her burden will be lighter than if it also held the weight of years of giving up everything in my life as a service to hers. That is too much for a child to bear. So, parents, be brilliant, live your life boldly, even when you’re so exhausted from a day of wriggly diaper changes and copious hand washing. Not only is it keeping me afloat in a time of many frustrations, but it is building a life that one day, both Olive and I will be proud of.