this is what it's like to have kids. just this.

In Oregon, we hiked into a cave, a lava tube where tourists in sandals can descend into the damp dark, and freeze their asses off in the 40-degree cold as they stumble a mile into true blackness.

Here it is.
Of course.
The perfect metaphor for explaining parenting to non-parents.


It doesn't matter how many people are in there, hiking the cave with me.
It doesn't matter how many people have gone in before me, or how many will follow.
I'm surrounded by dark.
I'm alone.

It doesn't matter how many people I know with babies.
It doesn't matter how many friends can babysit, or how often my mom comes to visit.
This is different.
I'm this kid's mom.
Just me.
I'm alone.


___

I recognize the elements of the cave - rocks, dark, sand, cold.

I've seen all kinds of kids - snotty kids, biracial kids, nerdy kids, kids with buck teeth, kids with snacks. I GET kids.

But this place is a mystery. The scale of space, my own smallness... it's scary. This is not a place that welcomes human life.

But now I have my own kid. The scale of responsibility, my own uncertainty... I am totally fucking freaked out. It's terrifying. This is not a job that a person should be able to do without extensive training in lifesaving medicine, early childhood development, holistic nutrition, and at least one musical instrument. 

___

The cave is cold, dark, barren. It's too easy to imagine the lights going out.

Being a parent is too hard, unrelenting, a life sentence. It's too easy to imagine forgetting the baby in the car. Buying a banana with a brain-eating parasite. Raising a heroin addict. A school shooter. Or one of those guys who still doesn't know how to do his own laundry at 40.

The cave is also super fucking boring:
wow
look at that
gray
fucking
rock
Rock.
Rock.
Rock.
Rock.
Puddle.
Rock.

Diaper. 
Diaper. 
Diaper. 
Diaper. 
Boob. 
Diaper. 

___

Inside the cave, I can only see as far as my flashlight beam cuts into the dark.
I can take one step with confidence, but only one.

As long as the boys do everything they did yesterday, in the exact order they did it in, I'm good. 
I can't think about the hellscape of potty training.
I can't even go to a mental place where boners are going to be a factor.


___

Inside the cave, under those thousands of tons of rock dangling in the cold, wet air, I am aware, suddenly, of how soft my body is.

So far behind me are the days of stumbling home alone with my shoes in my hand. 
So far gone is the time when my life lay safely inside a steadfast shell of youth and hubris. 
I've been hulled. 
The world is fast, sharp, hard, and scary. 
I have this small, soft creature who must (MUST) survive. 
It's no wonder I stay up nights checking locks and buying earthquake supplies.

___

Inside the cave, I find a rock face veined with shimmering trails of gold. It is unspeakably beautiful. It's like I've found the beating heart of the mountain. I take a picture. It just looks like rock. I tell my family about it. I use all the words. They smile. They say, "cool."

My son says, "I like you, Mommy. You're my best friend. I like my family. It's good." It is unspeakably beautiful. It's like I've found the beating heart of my entire life. I take a picture. It just looks like a regular Tuesday morning picture. I tell my family about it. I can't use any words. They smile. They say, "aww."

___

don't know if the first cave explorers said, "wow, look at that gorgeous view" as their lanterns cut through the inky dark to reveal gold-laced cliffs and pillars of stone.

I think it's a lot more likely they said, "it will be a fucking miracle if we survive this."



Parenting is that cave. "So beautiful" and "a cool experience," to those who come to visit before grabbing a burger and heading home. 

But to those who descend into it, suddenly in charge of an expedition of amateurs, groping and unsure, both numb to the sight of another gray outcropping and moved to tears at the aching beauty that the world delivers to us and us alone... to us who are aware, constantly, of the consequences of a stumble, even as we carry everything that matters deeper into the dark... to us, it's not pretty. 

It's terrible and vast. 

And thrilling. 

And the best adventure.

4 comments:

  1. So perfect. So beautiful. And, man, it will be a fucking miracle if we survive this.

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  2. You are such a fantastic writer and so good at metaphors. I am interested to see if your metaphor changes when your kids get older. When my kids were your kids' ages, I would definitely describe that time as my own personal cave. It was a dark time and full of uncertainty. But now that my kids are older, there is so much more light. And the diaper, diaper, diaper, diapers are gone!

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