My new short story collection, A Curious Land: Stories from Home, has made the shortlist for Butler University’s Pressgang Prize. The winner, to be announced in August 2014, will receive publication and a reading at Butler University.
Last month, a friend of mine, who happens to be serving on a work committee, offered to do a bigger share of the workload. “It’s okay,” he insisted, when I protested. “You have three kids. I have only one.”
At the grocery store, where my children were causing havoc in the cereal aisle, a mother with a toddler sitting in the cart and sucking on a bottle, smiled sympathetically at me and said, “I don’t know how you do it with three. I can barely manage and I have only one.”
Sometimes, when I’m venting with friends about how difficult my mornings are (waking up the kids, making sure everyone’s dressed, preparing their breakfasts while yelling at them to brush their teeth, the chaos of shoes, bookbags, hats – okay, I’ll stop), those with a single tot at home will shake their heads and say, “Wow, I mean, I think I have a hard time, but I have only one.”
I know they’re offering their support, their respect. These words are intended to be the parental version of a fist bump. And I’m grateful to be surrounded by fellow parents who are sympathetic and supportive, rather than judgmental and competitive (because I’ve been around that crowd too, and they’re complete jerks).
But it bothers me that they’re somehow downplaying their own experiences, that it somehow makes you more of a parent if you have more kids (because by that logic, Jon and Kate Gosselin would be child-rearing experts). So that’s why I’ve started to reply, in this way, “Whether you have one or five, it’s always a challenge.”
Because parents of “only one” child have known the trauma of waking up to find a crib splattered with vomit.
You’ve seen your toddler’s face flushed red with fever, watched that thermometer creep up to 102 and been launched into a state of total, drive-to-the-ER panic.
You’ve had to deal with the drama of self-esteem and risk-taking that is potty training.
They’ve smiled convincingly at a kid who’s tasting pureed green beans for the first time.
You’ve hushed and consoled a preschooler who’s just been given four vaccinations at once and is outraged at such a low-down trick.
And you’ve had to grapple with the stuff, the endless stuff you need to foray into the world with a child – the stroller, the carseat, the diaper bag, the sling, the juice bottle, the sippy cup and its stupid valve that pops out whenever the thing falls and hits the ground.
These experiences are minor when considered individually, but they accumulate, like grains of rice, until you are startled to realize that you have a sack filled with parenting wisdom.
These experiences are valid. They do not lose legitimacy because they have happened only once.
My own mornings and evenings and drop-offs at daycare and storytimes at the library are not more legitimate because I am juggling the needs of three. I asked for this situation and even on those days – those days, when I’m looking to the heavens to drop some patience on me – I know that I have been blessed.
I am also blessed to be friends with parents who give me props, who salute my efforts. All I’m saying is this: don’t dismiss your own efforts, or shrug off the value of your own parenting experiences. Because we’re all in it together.
And you’re doing a fantastic job.