Dan Savage is more than just a sex columnist. As engaging, entertaining and insightful as his sex advice is (and his sex advice is all these things and more), I find his no bullshit relationship advice to be his somewhat unsung strength. Savage understands people, and what it means to be human, better than most writers I have read (and certainly better than most columnists I've read). His column and blog are here in case you haven't had the pleasure.
Savage and his (now legally recognized) husband Terry are raising a son. During the struggles and the joys of raising their child, Savage has thrown out several useful observations to us new parents throughout the years, but the one that sticks with me is his comment that (and I'm going to poorly paraphrase here) there are no 'good' days or 'bad' days as a parent. There are good moments and there are bad moments. One able to transform into the other without hint or warning or reason.
He's right, as he is about many things, but it's a truth that is difficult for me to accept.
I, of the ever non-present and non-patient mind, very much struggle with no longer being able to round whole days up to 'good' or certain days down to 'bad.' The constant shifting between states is jarring, unsettling, de-centering. The mindset required--one of fluidity and flexibility, one with a decided lack of judgment--depletes my energies as much as it rejuvenates them. Now we're OK. Now we're not OK. Now we're OK....I suspect that we parents are exhausted much of the time not solely because of the intense emotional and physical labor required to get a child (or more) through his or her day, but also because we are constantly assaulted for allowing ourselves to even entertain time-frames as long as whole days and concepts such as 'good' and 'bad.' The parenting life becomes an accidental Zen state: it is what it is. Nothing more and nothing less.
If I haven't made this clear before, let me do so now: this Zen state is not a natural one for me. Those who know me know that I am someone who loves to label things 'good' and 'bad.' I am someone who likes to have entire days--not mere moments--to look back on and categorize. This is one of those lessons of parenting that I wish I could have known about ahead of time.
"By the way, once your kid is here, your brain is going to get wrung out like a musty old towel - on a moment to moment basis."
Lest you think I am being overly harsh on the act of parenting, I'll leave you with this: a friend and I were discussing Vernal Falls in Yosemite Valley, where posted signs warn you away from the enticing emerald water--that is mere meters away from a huge fucking waterfall--with words that literally spell out: Swim here and you will die. We were discussing the tragedy of someone inevitably ignoring the many signs and finding himself or herself going over the falls and how there is almost always a second victim trying to rescue the first. What flashed in my head was the image of one of my kids flailing in those waters, heading for certain doom, and I said:
"No parent would ever watch his kid get pulled over the falls without going after him."
Friend: "But it would be useless. You would die, too."
Me: "You would have to try. You would have to. It's your fucking kid."
Friend (shrugging): "Well, it would be two deaths then."
Somehow that about sums up this whole parenting gig.