We had some friends over for dinner last night, a married couple expecting their first child this summer. I was a little nervous about the get-together, mostly because I didn’t want to horrify them with a bleak glimpse into their parental future. As it turned out, though, the children were fairly decently behaved and hopefully didn’t freak them out too much. Sure, there was that awkward moment where five seconds before they knocked on our door Riley burst out sobbing due to some mysterious malady with his ear and could not be consoled for several long, unbelievably loud minutes, and of course during dinner Dylan dramatically gagged on one of those tiny puffed-corn snacks that supposedly melts in babies’ mouths and had to be ferried at top speed to the kitchen sink for a corn-puff-ectomy and subsequent hurling, but other than that . . .

At one point our pregnant guest said something like, so, Linda, let me ask you honestly . . . would you say it’s hard to retain your normal adult life and interests now that you have kids? And I gave it some thought and provided the most accurate and respectful answer I could, which was to bend over and heartily slap my knee while barking with bitter, bitter laughter.

Okay, not really. I may have allowed a tiny HAR! to slip past my lips, but I promise, I regretted it immediately.

Here’s what I think: when you become a parent, life changes in more ways than you ever could have imagined. Yes, in all sorts of profound and meaningful and wonderful ways, but also in all sorts of incredibly annoying and inconvenient ways. Every single tiny little activity that you do on your own time, that you enjoy and take for granted, is going to change. You will not necessarily be able to continue to see movies, read books, eat food, sleep, exercise, or take a shit when you want to do so. Just leaving the house will become a strategic operation involving the sort of prep work that goes into Everest expeditions, and unless your hobbies already happen to revolve around diaper changes, naptimes, feedings, etc, they are probably going on the back burner. For, like, several years.

These are nontrivial issues to deal with. I mean, I can only speak personally and I know everyone’s experience is different, but, you know, I think it’s pretty goddamned hard to make that switch and start living your life based primarily around someone else’s needs. Especially when you feel like you’re trying to do just one little thing for yourself, not like a weeklong trip to Cabo or even a Saturday morning spent in bed with a good book, but something tiny — I JUST WANT TO FINISH THIS CUP OF COFFEE OH MY GOD — and you can’t.

So everything changes. And for a while it seems like everything narrows, too — everything draws in for those early weeks of newbornhood, where it’s all magical and sort of awful at the same time and time become elastic and weird. But then I suppose what happens is that it all expands again, and becomes bigger than it ever was before. Life spreads out to encompass everything you want it to . . . you just have to work a lot harder at it. You have to give up doing things when you want, and start doing things when you have time to do them, and if you’re very lucky there isn’t too big of a gap between points A and B.

My adult life has changed in every way possible, but I’m still here. It’s still me. My normal adult life doesn’t necessarily encompass everything it used to, but all the important elements are still thriving, and if certain areas have receded for the time being, others have exploded like Roman candles.

I still don’t know what my actual answer is. Especially without resorting to the cliches about how it’s all worth it, because of course is it, but that wasn’t the question, was it?

Comments

89 Responses to “Adult life and interests”

  1. Jane on February 17th, 2009 8:49 am

    Thank you Linda–this is one of your best. I reiterate what I have said in other comments, you have SUCH a friend in me in South Florida (and in my sister in Va. Beach). I just want to thank all of the other commenters, too. It is so gratifying to read the thoughtful, intelligent, and honest comments of the women and men who read this blog. You ALL just made my day!

  2. kate on February 17th, 2009 9:06 am

    I really appreciate your honest perspective! I don’t know if I’ll have children, but if I do, I don’t want to go into it with unrealistic expectations. I want the real dirt!

  3. pam on February 17th, 2009 9:06 am

    sometimes i like to reminisce about what it was like to, say…

    – go shopping after work
    – lay on the sofa after work
    – sleep until 7 am
    – read the newspaper

    but i can hardly remember those days. which is okay. :)

  4. Sharon on February 17th, 2009 9:11 am

    I truly miss drinking my coffee before it reaches bone-chilling cold; I miss my old jeans that may never fit again, no matter what the scale says; I miss reading something above the “I Can Read!” level; I miss non-scheduled sex (with husband or alone, either one…) I miss drinking more than 1/2 glass of wine at any given time because I’m going to drive home with the kids and I am a responsible mom!; I miss REM sleep; I miss having all the socks come out of the laundry with a match; I miss watching any movies up for current academy awards…

    But in the place of what I miss, I get hugs whenever I want them; hugs to knees, elbows, heads, necks; I get “I wuv you too, mommy” when I tuck her in; I get to play with play-doh!; I get the joy of holding my son and feeling him relax from the sobbing and burrow into my neck; I get to make cookies with my daughter; I get to be Santa Claus; I get her hand in mine when we walk the dog together; I get to make snow people in the front yard; I get to read book after book after book with them on my lap, excited about reading; I get group snuggles on the couch; I get the excitement of sleeping in a tent in the living room…

    In essence, I have gained so much, that what I have given up doesn’t seem that important anymore. Except drinking coffee when it’s warm…and that’s what a microwave is for.

  5. Joel on February 17th, 2009 9:23 am

    Undomestic Diva:

    (This is to take nothing away from or invalidate what you say in any way) If there are any dads-to-be reading this, her comment applies to you too; it’s very possible you’ll start to feel like you’ve lost your identity. I felt that _hard_, and we do new parents a disservice with the sweetness-and-light-it’s-all-worth-it stuff.

    Yes, it’s worth it. But sometimes it has to _become_ worth it. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t feel that way immediately.

  6. Shawna on February 17th, 2009 9:54 am

    I now what Sadie is saying, I think. For one thing, when my doctor was young and having her children, HER (male) doctor’s advice to get her baby to sleep through the night was to put them in their crib, close the door and not go back until morning. Period. That was just the mentalitiy back then and it was rare for women to question their doctors.

    For another, there were a lot of moms that stayed home even before having children, and even if they didn’t they were expected to resign once they had them. Women weren’t expected to do it all, but they were expected to stay home, run the household and raise the kids. It was normal and expected that babies be put down in cribs and playpens and stay there while the moms cleaned, cooked, etc.

    I also suspect that generations past went out to eat a lot less and did fewer things for just themselves in genera.

    So I guess what I’m saying in response to Sadie is that older generations may think we’re crazy to cater to our kids the way we do, and yes, they did not center their lives around their kids, but I think their lifestyle was intrinsically more accommodating of having kids around.

  7. victoria on February 17th, 2009 10:07 am

    Spendy products that might be worth it? I would say fotofacials and Restylane (though these are services not products and I guess you don’t necessarily want to test drive them yourself since you’d be semi-permanently altering your face. . . ).

  8. Squeeky on February 17th, 2009 10:19 am

    AMEN. I can’t remember the last time I was able to drink something without sharing, have a poop without company, or walk through my house without stepping on a GD Hot Wheel car! But when he smiles at me, well Shit! of course you can have another slobber covered sip of my apple juice.

  9. Marje on February 17th, 2009 11:43 am

    How I’d answer the posed question….

    Yes, parenting is hard – but what changes after becoming a parent is the definition of “Normal Adult Activities”

    Don’t expect that change to be simple to make – it’s complicated by a deep love and devotion to your own personal miracle that has no sense of time, poops constantly, and doesn’t care if you don’t get to shower for a week. It’s like a life earthquake that shifts everything around and makes you feel uncertain on your feet.

    Eventually though, the shifting stops, and a new “normal” happens.

  10. Jen on February 17th, 2009 11:52 am

    I am so glad you wrote this because I am the only one of my close group of friends that has a child. I ALWAYS feel like they do not even begin to FATHOM why I cannot just GO OUT WITH THEM on Friday night. “Just leave him with his dad” they say. As if it is just that easy. It’s just as easy as saying “Honey- I am going out drinking with the girls. Have fun with the evil teething baby this evening even though you have been working 18 hours a day all week long- ok?!”

    Yeah, right. HAHAHA.

  11. Christy on February 17th, 2009 12:09 pm

    We just had our third baby in June. People ask all the time which was harder, going from 1 to 2 or 2 to 3. I always say the first was hardest because it was such a complete life change.

  12. Anonymous on February 17th, 2009 12:10 pm

    I LOVE this post and all the comments…one more thing I just want to add. There is such huge financial shift that happens too. We’ve had to say good-bye to so much… not just because we don’t have the time (that too!), but because diapers, babysitters, formula, pediatrician co-pays, etc. add up. So even if I did (for some strange reason) have a day to myself, I certainly couldn’t afford to do the things I used to do. Kids are expensive, man! But I do keep reminding myself that I wouldn’t trade all the ski trips or manicures or pottery classes in the world for my kids. It’s all about perspective right?

  13. Tony on February 17th, 2009 12:42 pm

    Christy,

    I’ve heard that the 3rd is the hardest. You can no longer play “man to man” (or person to person). You have to switch to a zone defense.

  14. MelV on February 17th, 2009 1:26 pm

    HAHAHAH! Corn-puff-ecotmy!! We are so very familiar with that procedure. Melt in mouth-my foot!!

  15. Heather B. on February 17th, 2009 1:29 pm

    This is the best description of motherhood. And oh so real. I’ve seen others give good descriptions but you don’t do it in a militant, cliched, us vs. them type way. That’s what I like about you; you’re able to remember what your life was like before children and compare it to now in an effective way instead of an AIIIEEEIIIEEE, screechy way. Thank you.

  16. Christy on February 17th, 2009 3:08 pm

    Tony, for me, my first baby was hardest. Going from non-parent to parent was a huge adjustment. I found it really overwhelming. When my second was born, I found her to be a piece of cake. Number three has definitely put me over the top in terms of getting things done around the house. I’m hoping that improves with age.

  17. Kim on February 17th, 2009 3:44 pm

    Thank you guys to responding to my IVF comment – I feel like someone on the outside looking into the exclusive club that is parenthood sometimes and also sort of like a weirdo because I’m the only one I know who’s having to go through this procedure. It’s parents like you Linda, who make me think that I will still be me even if I become a mom. I’d rather read about real life than fakey perfect-world flowers and unicorn farts any day.

  18. spacegeek on February 17th, 2009 4:10 pm

    Hilarious!! My dogs have accompanied me to the bathroom for years, but now the toddlers want to *view* the poop. OMG. And if my husband tries to hide in the bathroom for a 20 minute shit, I scream at him to finish already and help me!!! LOL
    Kim, we often (semi-jokingly) tell our kids that they cost $75K per child so they better support us in our old age/better live up to our expectations because boy we have alot of them! Of course they are only 2.5 and don’t really understand all of that… We sometimes say, too, I coulda been happy just raising dogs… but then I get home from work and they shriek with delight and throw themselves in my arms. And the language is so much fun too–Chicken Uggets. Awfully fun.

  19. aimee on February 17th, 2009 5:56 pm

    I love the whole post, of course, but especially laughed about not wanting to totally horrify your friends. I’ve had the same fear, but then realized that the friends will probably just smugly think to themselves “oh we/our kids won’t be like that” just as I did as a smug not-yet-parent!!

  20. gertie on February 17th, 2009 8:30 pm

    I think Chief Tyrol summed it up best on BSG a couple of weeks ago: “Welcome to fatherhood. It sucks. *pause* Except for the parts that don’t.”

    The place where non-parents (myself included, a few years ago) get it wrong is in assuming that parenting is overwhelming because of the choices that the parents make. That scenario may be true with older kids and busybody parents, but not for babies.

    Parenting a baby is overwhelming because of the sheer relentlessness of the job. You are on hyper-alert 24/7, even if you are a “hands off” parent. A baby will command your attention in a way that you didn’t realize was possible. You won’t even sleep the same way–you’ll have one ear open all night long. Babies rob you of all autonomy, even your bodily functions.

    But yes, it does get better. You also get more efficient, because you spend so much time thinking about what you wish you could do with your free time that when you finally get a free half an hour, you back a week’s worth of recreation into it.

  21. jonniker on February 17th, 2009 9:10 pm

    I’m reading these comments and loving may them, but also half-laughing, because am I the only non-parent (for two weeks, anyway) who is ONLY expecting parenting to be a non-stop parade of death, destruction and misery?

    Am I the only one who seems to be surrounded by real-life people who only wish to share their horror, shock and misery, without any of the good stuff?

    Where are these unicorn-farters? Who are the people who claim NO ONE TOLD THEM IT WOULD BE HARD? And … really? Really, no one told you, REALLY? I’ve stocked my freezer with food because I am genuinely anticipating that I will never be able to STAND UP again, much less COOK.

    I’m not kidding you, I am expecting it to be BAD. I will consider my first week a success if my kid doesn’t ACTUALLY gnaw my face off, spit it into the garbage and follow it up by stuffing sharpened bamboo shoots down my fingernails. Seriously.

    And Linda, I’d like to second HB’s notion that you, more than anyone, articulate the balance very well — the person you were before, the challenges of what you face now, and how to reconcile them both in a realistic way that doesn’t come across as condescending or “Oh, you’ll never KNOW what it’s like even though you think you DO, so let me LAUGH IN YOUR FACE and see how stupid I can make you feel now, so that when you have your own, you can tell me that I told you so.”

    You never do that. Most people really seem to like to. I appreciate that you don’t, and it’s a large part of why I’ve always liked you.

  22. jonniker on February 17th, 2009 9:11 pm

    err, loving many of them*

  23. wordygirl on February 17th, 2009 10:14 pm

    AWESOME post, Linda.

    Yes. So much yes. You got it in a nutshell.

  24. Annie on February 17th, 2009 11:55 pm

    “And if my husband tries to hide in the bathroom for a 20 minute shit, I scream at him to finish already and help me!!! LOL”

    LMFAO… am printing this out right now to PROVE to my husband that I am not the only one to do this! “I know it doesn’t take you that long to take a shit!” has been yelled many-a-time in my house!

  25. nicoleantoinette on February 18th, 2009 12:32 am

    Just wanted to say that it was lovely meeting you tonight! And that I think I’ll need to seriously revisit this post when considering having children of my own.

  26. Marje on February 18th, 2009 8:00 am

    I just figured out why I love reading your blog…

    Remember the episode of Friends where Phoebe sings songs to children at the library? And the parents hate it, but the kids love her because she sings about the truth?
    You rock at singing the truth about life as a working parent.

    Thanks. :)

  27. Jenny on February 18th, 2009 8:45 am

    Before I had children I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. Of course we wouldn’t be able to drop everything and go to the movies and such, but life wouldn’t change THAT much . . . oh. ha ha HA. I found myself missing the drive to work, just to have 20 minutes of solace with the radio. I missed work just for the reason that I could have privacy when I went to the bathroom. It took me three months to finish one book. I’ve become strange and stingy about food, preferring to take my plate into an empty room just to be able to eat without tiny hands suddenly grabbing my food. Yes, my life had definitely changed, every hour of it. I have definitely had to priortize what I want/need and work diligently to carve out time for those things.

  28. Sarah on February 18th, 2009 9:27 am

    I’m pregnant right now and I only asked that question once. The answer was: infinitely harder, but it gets better. So over the course of the next few YEARS, I suppose we’ll see how much she lied to me…

    I love the analogy to Everest expeditions!

  29. Jenny on February 18th, 2009 9:57 am

    I read this yesterday, and I’m still thinking about it today, so I’m compelled to say: thank you for this. I think we all change throughout our lives (jobs, marriage, passionate hobbies, developing interests other than lighting farts and doing kegstands), and kids just do that job of changing us faster and more efficiently than anything else. We have to figure out that we are still ourselves, still us in here, as you put it so beautifully, through all those changes, but especially kids. It’s hard to do, but it’s crucial.

    I think I’ll print this up as a Pamphlet of Awesomeness, or possibly as a large tattoo (on my back?). Thanks for it.

  30. H on February 18th, 2009 10:00 am

    For me, I was really scared that I would turn into one of those overly scheduled, must get into FancyPants School, must have FancyPants stroller and all MANDATORY acoutrements-type mom. I don’t know why I thought that, but I did (I also had a similiar experience with fears of being consumed by the Wedding Machine – which btw I wasn’t). I guess my only point of reference was those “perfect” moms on tv, and my own mom (grew up in 70’s suburbia) which just didn’t jive with my very urban lifestyle. Then I visited a old friend who had 2 kids and she was just like she always was, except with 2 kids. It was an eye opening visit, and I came home and told my husband that yes, officially, I think we can have a kid and still be us. I saw it with my OWN EYES! So now we have a 15 month old and are seriously contemplating #2 and we are having fun and still being ourselves.

  31. victoria on February 18th, 2009 5:04 pm

    I read both “Tweak” and “Beautiful Boy.” The thing that really struck me forcefully was that, for the dad, his son’s addiction was this horrifying trauma that blotted out the sun. The dad’s whole existence, at times, was consumed by the desire to save his son, so much so that when he had an aneurysm, he kept struggling to remember his son’s cell phone numbers, and could only get the first three or four digits. By contrast, for the son, his addiction’s impact on his family was a peripheral concern. Addicts are hugely self-absorbed, and even though Nic comes acros as sweet and harmless in “Tweak,” he’s barely aware of how much he’s hurting his family. The contrast is at its starkest when Nic learns of his father’s illness and feels no panicked “Oh, God, must see him NOW” response similar to his dad’s.

  32. erin on February 18th, 2009 9:21 pm

    my days are numbered in half empty cups of coffee.

  33. Shawna on February 19th, 2009 3:01 pm

    There’s a great article clipping over at Suburban Turmoil that put me in mind of this discussion:
    http://suburbanturmoil.blogspot.com/2009/02/in-defense-of-sahm-plus-scared-skinny.html

  34. Amy on February 19th, 2009 5:11 pm

    My biggest challenge right now is trying to find the time to work out. I have school work in the evenings so I have to make time in the mornings and my 11-month-old will not let me most mornings. You would think that I could reasonably expect him to be asleep between the hour of 4 and 6, but no so luck.

    It’s amazing how much things change when you have children. Even little things are a challenge to accomplish, like a shower, or a hot meal. And it’s hard to maintain the strong connection with your spouse that you used to have. All the little things you used to do together and take for granted are rare now. Like staying up until 2 in the morning talking. With two small children, I’m lucky to make it until 10. And seeing a movie that is not animated? That’s a very rare treat.

    And it’s not something that can be explained to people that don’t have children. How very much they change your whole existence. How much they change you. It’s a whole new facet of your personality. You as a parent. It changes the dynamics of your relationship with your spouse and it can change how you view situations.

  35. Jennifer on February 20th, 2009 9:52 am

    Long time reader, delurking to say… Wow, lots of great comments and an awesome post to begin with. I will have to muster up some AUDACITY to think I can add to this conversation… There.

    The way I describe new parenthood (at least to people who care about the actual experience and who aren’t going to get too spooked) is thus: It’s like you’ve just had a bomb go off in your home, so that everything or nearly everything is pretty unrecognizable. and while you’re staggering around trying to remember what you left on the coffee table that is now a charred remnant of its former self, you discover that a whole wing of your house that you never had access to has been opened up due to this explosion. and so you move in, taking a few still-smoking remains with you.

  36. Did becoming a parent kick the “self”… | Work It, Mom! Blog | Work It, Mom! on February 24th, 2009 12:38 pm

    […] (This post was inspired by an awesome post I just read on Sundry Mourning, by Linda from our Milk & Cookies blog. It’s titled Adult life and interests and in it she says what I am trying to say below in a much more eloquent way. So yes, go ahead, click over and read her post. You’ll be thankful that you did.) […]

  37. Jisoo on February 28th, 2009 7:16 pm

    I loved reading your post. I especially second the whole “oh my god I just want to finish this coffee” thing. I felt like I almost like crying last weekend when I was reading newspaper and having some coffee and kept getting disrupted. Ah, it’s the small things that get impacted that you end up missing the most.

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