The Meaning of Life Turns Out to Be Having Snacks
Last week on the coldest day of the year I took my children to an indoor playspace in the city. I paid $18 for the privilege of staring blankly into space while my children ran around in circles destroying an environment other than the interior of my home. Dozens of other mothers on that morning had made a similar cost-benefit analysis. They'd each said to themselves, "If we stay home I can do the laundry, but the kids might write on the walls. If we go out it'll cost me a week's worth of coffee and I'll be bored to tears, but at least there will be no walls to repaint."
What does this look like, this odd combination of decisiveness and resignation? It looks like a lot of women staring off into space while simultaneously rubbing their temples.
In these (loud) moments I start to question everything I believe about motherhood. Do all of us mothers really have to be doing all of this mothering all the time? Doesn't that seem redundant? Why should every parent-child pair have to act out the EXACT SAME drama every single day at leaving time?
"We HAVE to go home."
"I don't WANT to go home!"
"I have a snack for you in the car."
"Is it apples?"
"It may or may not be apples."
"I really hope it's NOT apples."
Seriously, why do we all have to participate in this negotiation? Can't there be, like, one master parent-child conference every morning, in some remote location? To get it over with for the rest of us—the way the president signs a treaty on behalf of the nation.
This just in: Ma president has finally reached an agreement with the child congress. The snack in the car today will be Ritz crackers.
No, childrearing is not a representative democracy. Enter a public playspace on a cold day and you find a hundred little fiefdoms. This bothers me, because if I can't streamline my mothering then I need to come up with a different way to feel about it.
Raising children is draining because it's made up of a million repetitive actions. There are just not that many innovative ways to fold laundry. Or change a diaper. Or read Goodnight Moon. I bet you could come up with some creative recipes for chicken nuggets (cardamom, anyone?) but I'd put sound money on your kids NOT eating them.
I wonder if there's some value in the lack of creativity in parenting, in its temple-rubbing boringness. When we ask, "What will I do to entertain my children today? What will I feed them?" the smallness of these decisions reveals the smallness of our lives in relation to the universe.
"Why does this snack matter so much to you?" I ask my 5-year-old. At the same time I’m thinking, "Why does anything matter to me? Ever? In the grand scheme of things, I’m just as small as he is."
At the same time, there is a bigness even in the offering of a cracker. When my kids need a snack, there is no one else who can take over this transaction. I am the be-all-end-all in hunger fulfillment for their universe.
So in this small sphere (we're still talking about the crackers), I have a comparatively large role. The fiefdom may be small, but I am still the only ruler.
There are dozens of children at the playspace, but only three of them look to me for comfort when they fall down. Only one of them makes my heart leap when he crawls onto my lap and licks my face. (If either of the older two did that it would be disgusting.) Only one of them is stubborn enough to say he'll ALWAYS be my baby even though he's the middle child. Only one of them makes cheeky-as-heck (but a little bit funny) comments about the prospect of apples.
I, in turn, am the only lady who gets to appreciate these tiny qualities in my children. Somehow this ends up feeling big.