For years parenting was such a whole-bodied, consuming activity. It’s like jail, isn’t it? I’m sure it’s not okay to say that but come on, it’s kind of like jail. It’s just … all the time, man. I don’t think it’s possible to really understand it until you’re in it: wait, I can’t even go to the grocery store anymore without 1) a heated negotiation process that inevitably leaves everyone feeling bitter and fucked-over, or 2) a squalling, pooping time bomb strapped to your actual body? What the hell did I do to my life and why does everyone keep telling me to enjoy it because it’s going to go by so fast?

Look, it took a long-ass time and I don’t miss it one bit, there’s your parenting truthiness, young people. Yes those small round-cheeked squirrels of mine are adorable in the rearview and no I have no desire to hit rewind and spend another year army-crawling towards nap time because I might get a whopping 45 minutes to “relax” while every crackle of the baby monitor pumps fresh waves of epinephrine into my bloodstream.

Things are very different now that they’re older, obviously, but it’s amazing how a giant independent child who is fully capable of doing everything on his own can still run the show. We are well past the immersive, 24/7 stages and these small humans have become exactly that: small humans. Now you have roommates, and they’re not at all the sort of person you’d advertise for on Craigslist.

Searching for two males to share a 3b, 2b home. Must be skilled at defacing toilets and leaving dirty socks in every corner of every room. We like it loud, loud, LOUD! Bonus if not able to cook, ravenously hungry at all times, incredibly picky with tastes that do not overlap. Special preference given to those who can spontaneously manifest unlimited quantities of Nerf foam darts, broken pencils, and Pokémon cards.

Domestic impact aside, it’s the moods that I struggle with these days. What’s that saying, you’re only as happy as your saddest child? There’s a deep bell-ringing truth to that but I’m thinking of how the day to day ups and downs can carry you along like a leaf in the wind. The air is always alive with someone else’s emotions, crackling and hissing, like those balls where you can touch the surface and a lightning of energy anchors from the center, and here I am just sitting on the couch trying to read last month’s Marie Claire.

Like someone’s super pissed because someone messed with their thing and they said not to mess with their thing and will you look at that he totally messed with it and I’m like I can’t get invested in this bullshit guys so figure it out somewhere else or I’m just gonna start handing out chores and then everyone gets upset like I’ve been the asshole all along.

The worst is when you have something you’ve been looking forward to — a nice family walk around the neighborhood, for instance — and it gets tanked by a grumpy kid. You rally the troops because you’ve decided you’re not going to let THAT one mess up your day and now you’re trudging along, a simmering stew of group resentment, the Bataan Death March with one oblivious Labrador whose relentless joie de vivre only serves to highlight how stubborn humans can be.

I’m the fool who always thinks I can fix it, too. “Can I just—” I get half my simpering statement out before someone shuts a door in my face. FINE, I think, and march back to the living room to peck sharply at my phone, rabble scrabble frabble, and ten minutes later the kid who acted like his entire existence was rounding the last bend of the toilet bowl has reset himself Memento-style and is happily singing “Wiggle” to the cat (“You know what to do with that big fat tail …”) while I’m still in the midst of radical self care on Amazon and will have fourteen boxes of unnecessary makeup products in two days’ time to show for it.

What’s really ridiculous is how often I declare my immunity from this whole reluctant-empath business. “Whatever guys, I’m out,” I’ll say, eyebrows and palm raised to show I really mean it this time. Like I’m on the Shark Tank panel and not only is their pitch a disaster, their company valuation is way off and their food sample tastes like ass. But I’m no steely-eyed Mr. Wonderful. I’m Robert, too easily swayed by the sob story, blinking against the bright lights of all this responsibility and just really hoping someone brought a dog.

I can hear you now, by the way. Just wait until they’re teenagers. Maybe I’ll have learned a thing or two about sidestepping all the Sturm und Drang by then. I doubt it, though. I suspect this is how it works forever, at least to a certain degree. No wonder we as parents can be so quick to judge and criticize one another — it’s all just window dressing, a great fuss to make up for the fact that we lost control years ago and we can pretend like we’re in charge with dietary choices and bedtimes and whatever but the truth is someone else is in the driver’s seat and our job is to slowly, carefully, finger by finger, let go altogether. They’re the ones who get to steer. We have to learn to be good passengers, juggling the snacks and the extra water bottles, advising when it helps, and the rest of the time, shutting the hell up.

Comments

41 Responses to “Erratic”

  1. TinaNZ on October 17th, 2016 4:25 pm

    “I have no desire to hit rewind” – I second, third and fourth that sentiment. And mine are in their twenties, after worryingly easy teen years. I would not give up the liberation of “going away for the weekend, see ya Sunday” for any number of chubby little hands and knees.

    So happy to be able to enjoy your writing again; I keep re-reading lovely phrases that chime so perfectly with my own ‘oblivious labrador’ and ‘Amazon-style self-care’ days.

  2. dani on October 17th, 2016 5:32 pm

    i love this post. thank you.

  3. Danell on October 17th, 2016 5:42 pm

    ❤️

  4. Kelly on October 17th, 2016 6:42 pm

    So, so, so happy you are back. This is spot-on, as ever. :)

  5. Cara on October 17th, 2016 7:32 pm

    My Mom was really, really good at shutting up when needed. My oldest is only 6, and I already know I really need to get better at that if I want to survive the teen years.

    On the other hand, I’m one of those weirdos who loves the little years. And, this second one (1 1\2 years) naps. Easily. Daily. For a couple of hours. It’s a game changer, and thank God it was my oldest who refused naps because if I’d known what I was missing I would not have enjoyed her baby and toddler years as I did.

  6. Jen on October 17th, 2016 7:53 pm

    I FEEL all my kids’ emotions, about 10 times longer than they do and riddled with mom guilt.

  7. Katie on October 17th, 2016 8:27 pm

    Truth. How come they get over being mad faster than we do? Oh wait, it’s because they can’t remember where they put their mad, JUST LIKE THE CANT REMEMBER WHERE THEY PUT ANYTHING ELSE. Love them. Would trade them for anything. For real.

  8. Michael on October 17th, 2016 9:26 pm

    Sooooooo true! We’ve remarked on how lousy our roommates are several times.

    Kids aren’t just small humans, they’re humans *concentrate*. All the emotions, in half the space.

  9. Susan on October 18th, 2016 1:27 am

    You really are the modern-day Erma Bombeck and you need to be syndicated. 💯❤️

  10. Jen T on October 18th, 2016 5:21 am

    So glad you’re writing again. I have 1 year old twins, and while I find it mostly enjoyable now, the first 6-months were hell. There I said it. I miss them being so little, but I don’t, you know? What you said about the all consumingness of it…yes. I remember in the early months of parenting thinking of that Charles Dickens line “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” That’s parenting in a nutshell.

    And while we’re in a fun spot now I know there are more struggles and then happiness ahead. That last paragraph though. Whoa. So true, and so well written and ugh. Perfect and scary.

  11. AmyQ on October 18th, 2016 5:39 am

    Yep. I keep saying someone ought to write a book about this shit. It’s a fat lie. But silver lining for ya- you’re getting out of it without having to navigate it with a daughter. I love my girls (obligatory insert to hopefully offset what I’m about to say) but holy shit it’s THE biggest and longest mindfuck game of acceptance and rejection ever! Boys can go a few rounds in the game too but GIRLS are in it for life. We’re a fucked up bunch. Hey- write the book, woman.

  12. Valerie on October 18th, 2016 5:52 am

    Love this post. You put into (funny) words exactly how I feel at times with my two. And the fighting! I never realized how much of parenting is impersonating a referee. Thank you, and please keep writing.

  13. mcconk on October 18th, 2016 6:05 am

    I was not thinking “wait until they are teenagers”, I was thinking “try to have 2 girls!” Boys get mad and stomp off and get over it; girls are criers. My husband was always like “why is she crying?”.

  14. anne nahm on October 18th, 2016 6:23 am

    You are a gd treasure! Especially this: and I’m like I can’t get invested in this bullshit guys so figure it out somewhere else or I’m just gonna start handing out chores and then everyone gets upset like I’ve been the asshole all along.

    lololololol TY for making my day!

  15. JennB33 on October 18th, 2016 6:26 am

    I am so over parenting. Where do I sign them up for boarding school and me up for running, screaming, away from every responsibility I signed up for? Only 9.5 years until they are both done high school. Then they get a key to the house, a newspaper to go find a job, and I divorce them all. mic drop, indeed. I want my life-before-marriage-and-parenting back.

  16. Lisa on October 18th, 2016 6:54 am

    I feel you. I’m currently in a semi-sweet spot, parenting-wise (7 & 9 are good ages, for me)… but the attitudes and stomping off in a huff have begun and I am woefully unprepared for the teen years. I’ll still take this over the endless loop of babyhood. Those days just about did me in.

  17. Tessie on October 18th, 2016 7:50 am

    I usually feel COMPLETELY ALONE in the way I feel about leaving the little-kid stage behind, which is THANK FUCKING GOD. This also happens to be the (unpopular) way I feel about 50/50 custody (pretty sweet, most days).

    That last paragraph is gold. It makes me so happy you’re back(ish). xo

  18. Mary Clare on October 18th, 2016 8:07 am

    Goddam jail is right! My husband has his strengths, but dealing with little irrational people is not one of them. There have been hardly any breaks for me for the last few years. I’m finally getting to a new spot, where my younger child doesn’t freak the fuck out when I attempt to leave her side for a moment. The moody tweenager years haven’t been begun. Pretty nice place to be.

  19. Tammy on October 18th, 2016 8:45 am

    OMG, I have missed you. Your description of parenting is spot on. And, that scenario of someone touching someone else’s shit is one of many reasons why I only had one.

  20. Christina on October 18th, 2016 9:01 am

    AMEN AMEN AMEN
    The walk – been there
    The online therapy -been there
    The baby stuff – Agreed
    All of this. I always say I am just the passenger in this car, you get to make the decisions to the kiddos and they look at me like I have lost my mind.

    WELL SAID!!

  21. Jen on October 18th, 2016 9:25 am

    I have 4yo twins and a 6yo, so while the baby stage is behind us (thank fucking god), they are far from independent. But! No more butt wiping at least!!

    And the attitudes and stomping off seem to have already begun. That likely isn’t a good sign of things to come!

    Love your writing

  22. Kristi on October 18th, 2016 9:27 am

    Seriously. You must live on my street and report my goings on as your own…..
    Great read as usual. Thanks!

  23. KeraLinnea on October 18th, 2016 9:42 am

    I wasn’t going to tell you this, but after this post, I think I will. Three nights ago, I dreamed you were pregnant with twins. And in the dream, even though you told me you weren’t, I was like “Yes, you are. You have to just admit it and start planning for it, because twins are coming, Linda.” I hope I haven’t jinxed you… :P

  24. Mariya on October 18th, 2016 10:37 am

    OMG, thank you for this…mine are still young but I can 100% empathize. I appreciate each stage and love when it’s over. There is a “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” episode with Louis CK where they talk about this exact thing and it’s spot on…you should look it up and get some comic relief :-)

  25. Mel on October 18th, 2016 1:34 pm

    I’ve spent many a night crying after my moody 11-year-old is grumpy and says all the things you said to your mom. I mean, I said to my mom. Then there are OK days and it’s my daughter’s turn. Yay, the fun of it all. Thanks for writing reality to us and making me smile about it.

  26. Amber Lena on October 18th, 2016 2:47 pm

    Ok, this is the 26th comment and I’m sure you get sick of your readers telling you how great you are, but FUCKING-EH everything in this post is exactly right and you are amazing and I love your writing. That is all.

  27. Donna Brubach on October 18th, 2016 3:24 pm

    Wait till you have grandkids and can watch your kids go through all this. It’s kind of a smug feeling that hey, I wasn’t the only one, and some things never change.

  28. Lana on October 18th, 2016 4:27 pm

    thank-you for this. My daughter is nine and has ALL the feelings lately with a healthy dose of (out of the blue) separation anxiety leaving her and I both in tears in the mornings.

    I am a teacher and I can’t believe how passionately and ‘easily’ I can manage 26 other people’s children. But my ONE?

    WHERE IS THE DAMN INSTRUCTION MANUAL ALREADY??

  29. Nolita Morgan on October 18th, 2016 4:45 pm

    I love you, Linda! I have been away for a long while and something made me check back in with you today. It does feel like jail way too often and I do not feel like time passes by too quickly. You make me laugh out loud and that’s a huge feat. Just ask my roommates! Take care!

  30. Grace on October 18th, 2016 8:30 pm

    I was thinking of your parenting poetry the other day and was laughing to myself about it. I love the way you put things together!

  31. Em on October 19th, 2016 10:33 am

    I’m still in the jail phase of child rearing. And it is totally like being in jail – I never thought of it that way. I just inhaled the rest of the kids’ macaroni so I could get something in my stomach, and while I was doing that my 3-year-old feel asleep on the floor, so I am tip toeing around the house so he doesn’t wake up and attack me. :)

    I am glad there are others out there who feel the same way!

  32. gillian on October 19th, 2016 12:20 pm

    you are such an amazing writer. truly. I remember you writing when the boys were young about how it was like they had sharks for arms (right? I’m not making this up, I don’t think…) and now I have a 2.5 year old boy and oh my god. it’s true. the pinching and hitting and biting and just thank you, for reminding us we are not alone.

  33. Carmen on October 19th, 2016 1:57 pm

    Ohh I love this so much and was nodding along at every point. I love to read your posts because it’s nice to hear that other families seem to operate as mine do and that I’m not alone.

    I wouldn’t want to go back – except maybe to relive those few moments when a fat-cheeked baby fell asleep in my arms when I wasn’t tired or needing to chase another kid, and I could just stare at them. Those times were few and far between, obvs.

    My kids are about the same age as yours (10.5 & 8) and considering the amount of sass and eye-rolling that I get now, I’m not envisioning the teen years as being very smooth sailing. But every now and then, there’s a glimmer of the cool person lurking under the roiling emotions, and we get to have this amazing family moment. I just wish those were more frequent and I fear they will disappear completely during The Teen Years.

  34. nonsoccermom on October 24th, 2016 12:26 pm

    AGREEEEEEE. It’s constant and exhausting and some days I just want to tell everyone to leave me the hell alone because mom’s over it. Go away.

    On the upside, so far my experience with a teenage boy hasn’t been terrible at all. He’s 14 and most days he’s a damn delight – generally agreeable, nice to his 8yo sister, helpful and best of all, old enough to babysit AND shuttle both himself and the 8yo to/from school on public transportation. Honestly I found ages 10-12 to be far more frustrating, attitude-wise, than currently. So, there’s that, I guess…?

  35. Niki on October 24th, 2016 8:45 pm

    Agreed. No going back for me. They’re 21 and 19 and I couldn’t be more proud of them. Tonight I miss them in an aching way but it’s a moment. I’ll text them and they’ll send a goofy meme back and I’ll be fine.

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  38. Liz on November 2nd, 2016 9:29 am

    I haven’t read the whole post yet but I need to tell you how much I love the first paragraph. Thank you for describing parenting of young kids with such honesty. I have a 4 year old and a 1 year old and you just described my reality.

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  40. Robin Danely on November 7th, 2016 3:08 pm

    Mine are 8, 6, and 9-months… So I’m in baby-jail and I ALSO get all the he-looked-at-me-wrong squabbling moodiness from the older two.

    The other day I asked a friend, “When does it get awesome?”

    You, my friend, are the awesome. Thank you.

  41. M on February 1st, 2017 9:55 pm

    Lord have mercy how I wish I could have read this about 13 years ago. I had no idea you were writing again. Thank you for making me feel less stupid.

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