I have always been someone who does better with anticipation than actuality. I love the weeks building up to Christmas, but if I'm not careful, I can look forward to the big day so much that it's kind of a letdown when it comes. It's almost never about things I anticipate receiving, by the way: it's much more likely to be about a gift I'm so excited to give that, when the person receiving it has anything less than a "OHMYGOD THIS GIFT WILL CHANGE MY LIFE" reaction, I feel a little deflated.
This has me a little concerned about parenthood.
When I got engaged, there were lots of people who wanted to give me advice about marriage. Mostly, they felt the need to say something about how much work marriage is - as if that had never occurred to me before. There's never a way to know what something is like until you do it for yourself, of course, but I always felt those comments were overly patronizing. I was, after all, 31 years old. I counsel couples going into marriage and couples who are married and couples who are thinking about not being married anymore, so I had some experience with the "it's a lot of work" theory. But people had a big need to share this.
About a year later, a friend of mine asked me if marriage was what I expected. "Mostly," I said, "but nobody ever told me how much fun it was." "What?" she asked. "Well," I replied, "a lot of people told me that marriage was a lot of work, but nobody said anything about it being fun. Which it also is." "Oh," she said, "I'm so sorry - somebody should have said that too."
I've been doing a lot of thinking about how much work parenting is. Long nights and lack of sleep. Years of worry and anxiety. Decisions to be made which feel monumental (this has been particularly on my mind, having visited a potential daycare yesterday). 24-7-365 responsibility for the life and well-being of another person. Oh, and having to squeeze said person out of your body.
It seems like most of what people are telling me about parenthood - well-meant as it is - is along the same lines as their marriage advice: "it's a lot of work." And I know this, insofar as it's possible to know something as monumental as parenthood before you do it for yourself. Maybe a lot of people felt blindsided by that realization and they don't want me to experience that shock. Maybe there are lots of people who really felt like parenthood would be a walk in the park and now they feel obligated to inform the general public that this is not, in fact, the case.
Maybe I'm overreacting to my general tendency to over-anticipate things by focusing on how much work it will be. Maybe I'm turning into freaking Woody Allen with my neurosis over this.
Maybe I'm protecting myself by imagining the worst all the time, as if imagining those things will make them not happen, or somehow prepare me in advance, when in fact all it does is give me heartburn.
Every once in awhile, someone who talks to me about parenthood says what a great thing it is, that yes, it's a lot of work, but it's also wonderful. I suppose all I really want to do today is give thanks for those people. I have no problem imagining the worst, the work, and the worry. But if you can remind me of the good stuff? I'm really going to need you around in the next month. And thanks.